A new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that people diagnosed with COVID-19 are approximately “twice as likely” to have dined out at restaurants within the 14 days before they began to present symptoms.
The report, released on Thursday, suggests that in-person dining at restaurants — “where mask use and social distancing are difficult to maintain” — offers a greater risk of exposure than places like gyms or shopping centers.
“Masks cannot be effectively worn while eating and drinking, whereas shopping and numerous other indoor activities do not preclude mask use,” states the report, which suggests that on-site dining might pose “important risk factors associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection.”
The report’s findings are based on data collected from 314 adults ages 18 and up, taken from 11 outpatient healthcare facilities in 10 states. The sample included 154 participants who tested positive for SARS-Cov-2 and 160 who tested negative. All participants “reported symptoms at the time of initial SARS-CoV-2 testing,” per the CDC.
The group was asked to answer questions about their recent community activities, including on-site restaurant dining, and those who tested positive were nearly twice as likely to confirm they had eaten out in the 14 days before the onset of symptoms.
The study, which was conducted by the CDC along with researchers from 11 medical centers across the country, also accounted for participants who reported being in close contact with someone who had been diagnosed with COVID-19, such as a family member.
Taking this data into account, the CDC’s study observed no other “significant differences” in the group’s other community activities, such as: shopping; attending gatherings of 10 people or more inside a home; attending gatherings of 10 people or less inside a home; going to the gym; visiting a salon; going into the office; taking public transportation; or visiting a place of worship.
“In addition to dining at a restaurant, case-patients were more likely to report going to a bar/coffee shop, but only when the analysis was restricted to participants without close contact with persons with known COVID-19 before illness onset,” the report added.
The reserach, however, did not account for a number of factors, including whether or not the participants dined indoors or outdoors, or how those who reported visiting bars and coffee shops obtained their beverages. The authors also admitted that their sample group may not be representative of the entire country, and that participants who already knew of their diagnoses may have answered certain questions differently than if they had not.
The CDC says its findings are important for evaluating the reopening of not only the restaurant industry, but other community activities that present possible risk of exposure, such as schools or office buildings.
“Implementing safe practices to reduce exposures to SARS-CoV-2 during on-site eating and drinking should be considered to protect customers, employees, and communities and slow the spread of COVID-19,” the report concludes.
News of the CDC’s report comes as restaurants across the country work to reopen their dining rooms amid new mandates for social distancing and mask usage.