Closing Bars Again Backed by Science 07/02 06:20
(AP) -- Authorities are closing honky tonks, bars and other drinking
establishments in some parts of the U.S. to stem the surge of COVID-19
infections --- a move backed by sound science about risk factors that go beyond
wearing or not wearing masks.
In the words of one study, it comes down to the danger of "heavy breathing
in close proximity."
Crowded indoor spaces filled with people yelling, leaning close to hear one
another and touching the same sticky surfaces are "the opposite of social
distancing," said Dr. David Hamer of the Boston University School of Medicine.
"Can you do social distancing at a bar? Can you wear a mask while drinking?"
Hamer said. "Bars are the perfect place to break all those rules."
The rapid spread of a bar outbreak can swamp public health workers. In East
Lansing, Michigan, an outbreak tied to a large brewpub near Michigan State
University has spread to nearly 140 people in 12 counties, causing authorities
to recruit nursing students and retirees to help with contact tracing.
"In 12 days, we went from two identified cases to 128, and, honestly, I
don't have today's numbers yet," Ingham County health officer Linda Vail said
Wednesday before cases shot up again. She described her outlook as "shocked and
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer responded by closing indoor seating in bars
in parts of the state. Taverns will not have to close completely. They can sell
to-go cocktails and keep outdoor patios open.
In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom took similar action, ordering bars and
indoor restaurant dining to close again for the next three weeks in most of the
state. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio delayed the city's resumption of indoor
Two other factors at play in bars make them potential virus flashpoints.
Alcohol lowers inhibitions, so people forget precautions, said Natalie Dean, an
infectious diseases expert at the University of Florida.
Plus, the attractive, healthy person buying you a drink could be a silent
carrier, shedding contagious virus with each breath.
"Young people have less severe illness, so they may be infected and able to
infect others inadvertently," Dean said, noting outbreaks in Japan and South
Korea associated with restaurants, bars and karaoke parties.
In recent weeks, college towns across America have seen clusters of cases
that have been traced back to bars. Bars and restaurants near the University of
Iowa and Iowa State University closed only weeks after the governor allowed
them to reopen.
As of last week, 90% of cases in the county that is home to Kansas State
University involved people ages 18 to 24. Health officials said most of them
spent time in a bar and restaurant district known as "Aggieville."
Citing a similar spike, the Kansas county that includes the city of Lawrence
and the University of Kansas also ordered bars and nightclubs to close
beginning Friday for the next two weeks.
"Congregation at a bar, inside, is bad news," Dr. Anthony Fauci told a
Senate panel Tuesday. "We really have got to stop that."
Texas, Arizona, Los Angeles and some Pennsylvania counties are closing bars
to slow the spread of the virus. Florida and Colorado have told bars they
cannot serve alcohol on site.
Most bar owners and employees feel that they have been unfairly singled out,
particularly because restaurants are still open and serving alcohol. In Texas,
bar owners said that on Friday after they were forced to close their doors,
they noticed restaurants were still packed.
"You can go into a restaurant and they have bars, and you can have as many
drinks as you want," said Nikki Forsberg, owner of the Old Ironhorse Saloon in
Blanco, Texas. "It doesn't seem fair. Restaurants get this pass and the bars
The bar's manager, Tami Cooley, said although she did not wear a mask at
work, she felt the tavern was taking every precaution to safely stay open. No
one was allowed to drink or order at the bar, and tables were limited to six
people. They closed for a few days after finding out one of the bartenders had
been in contact with someone who tested positive for the virus.
"We were cautious at our bar. We social-distanced, sanitized the tables,
chairs, bathrooms, doorknobs," she said. "We did everything right."
In the Michigan bar outbreak investigation, "huge concern" now centers on
the parents and grandparents exposed to the virus by their offspring who
partied at the brewpub, Vail said. She worries about "a climb in secondary
cases if the people we asked to self-quarantine didn't do that ... Where is
this secondary transmission going to land?"
Saskia Popescu, an infectious diseases expert in Phoenix, said it's
difficult to disinfect surfaces at a bar enough to make a difference. Even
sitting at a table with friends at a bar involves loud talking and laughing
that could spread virus. It's not worth it, she concludes.
"You can make a cocktail at home," Popescu said.