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Restaurants urge governments to focus on what's really fueling the current COVID wave

Industry reps--and politicians--are citing indications that residential gatherings are far more of a danger than dining out.
current COVID wave
Photograph: Shutterstock

With a third wave of COVID-19 clearly underway, representatives of the restaurant industry are imploring government officials to avoid widespread re-closings of dining rooms when science shows other factors fueling the surge.

That effort comes as Illinois is suspending indoor dining in parts of the state because of a sharp upswing in new coronavirus infections. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Grisham is expected to announce new safety measures for her state later today, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has indicated that he’ll impose restrictions on blocks and streets where data show that recommended precautions are not being followed. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot voiced a warning to residents of her city that restrictions will be reimposed unless they act on their own to flatten a new curve.

The measures are intended to reverse a steep climb in new coronavirus infections. Yesterday, more than 64,200 new cases of COVID-19 were reported to health officials, a 34% increase in infections over the last two weeks, according to the daily tally maintained by The New York Times.

Health experts expect the numbers to continue soaring at least for the next few weeks as cold weather chases people indoors, where the risk of infection is greater. They also cite what’s been tagged as pandemic fatigue, an erosion of the public’s will to follow fundamental safety measures such as wearing masks and avoiding direct contact with others.  

Chicago’s Lightfoot and other government officials have noted findings that the current wave is being fueled by socializing in two particular settings: bars, and individuals’ homes. With a gathering of just 10 people, Lightfoot said in a briefing Monday, there’s a 24% risk that someone in the group is carrying the coronavirus. The likelihood jumps to 30% with a group of 25.

The mayor urged Chicago residents to think twice about inviting people over to their homes, particularly as Halloween, Thanksgiving and the year-end holidays approach.

“Cases appear to be on the rise nationwide. It’s unclear as to what’s driving that,” Sean Kennedy, EVP of public affairs for the National Restaurant Association, said during a panel discussion convened Monday by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. “We think the science is there to show it’s safe to eat inside a restaurant.”

He urged the four mayors participating on the panel, and any that may have been listening to the Zoom event, to keep that in mind and not be swayed by public hysteria or misperceptions.

Kennedy’s contention that dining-out can be safe was supported by Hillary Shieve, the mayor of Reno, Nev., and a participant on the panel, “What Will Your City Be Like Without Restaurants?”

“We’re not seeing the spread through restaurants, either,” Shieve said.

The mayors detailed a host of ways they’re trying to help restaurants survive the winter, even as they take steps to protect their cities from the national upsurge in new coronavirus infections.

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