CDC warns bars, restaurants could become COVID-19 superspreaders as businesses reopen

Federal researchers are warning that indoor gatherings such as those at bars could lead to COVID-19 outbreaks as businesses start to reopen, pointing to a bar-opening event in Illinois that spread the virus and likely led to a school closure and a hospitalization.

Forty-six cases of COVID-19 were linked to a bar event in February in a rural Illinois county, with secondary cases detected among household members, a long-term care facility and school contacts, according to a study released Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Among the 46 cases, 26 were detected in patrons and three in staff members who attended the bar event. Four persons with COVID-19 like symptoms had attended the event.

Secondary infections included 12 in eight households with children, two on a school sports team and three in a long-term care facility. Spread of the coronavirus tied to the opening event led to one school closure, which impacted 650 children and the hospitalization of a long-term care facility resident with COVID-19, the study says. 

The report also found that the weekly average of daily new COVID-19 incidence was 41 to 42 cases per 100,000 persons in the county before the event. However, two weeks after the bar opening, the weekly average daily incidence rate more than doubled to 86 to 87 cases per 100,000 people. 

“Similar gatherings that involve eating or drinking, such as on-premises dining at restaurants, weddings, and night clubs, have been associated with increased risk for acquiring COVID-19 and have the potential to become super-spreading events for SARS-CoV-2 infection,” the CDC study researchers wrote. “This investigation further demonstrates that inconsistent mask use and inadequate physical distancing in an indoor environment can increase transmission risk.”

“According to CDC’s COVID-19 guidelines for restaurants and bars, reducing patron capacity, ensuring adequate room air ventilation, prioritizing outdoor seating, and promoting behaviors such as staying at home when ill, washing hands often, wearing masks, and maintaining physical distance are important strategies to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2 infection,” they wrote.

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