By David M. Greenwald
As we wait for a vaccine, COVID is out of control and clearly state and local government had to step in. ICU capacity is expected to drop below 15 percent in our region—that’s a real danger and something has to be done.
Nationally the numbers are scary—yesterday there was once again a total of more than 200,000 new cases (remember in September, we were in the 30 to 50 thousand range) and deaths topped 3000 for the first time. To put that into perspective, more people died of COVID yesterday than died on 9/11.
Clearly something had to change, and clearly steps had to be taken to get people to take this threat seriously again—even as they are fatigued with the whole pandemic thing.
But it should be evidence-based and I have to question some of the approaches.
For instance, I never thought it was a good idea to open restaurants for inside service. You can socially distance, but someone has to serve people, air is going to flow over the course of an hour and even with good HVAC systems, it is a risk.
“Our mantra is the more frequently and more closely you interact with other people, and the number of people you interact with, increases your risk,” says Grant Baldwin, PhD, co-leader of the CDC’s Community Interventions and At-Risk Task Force, COVID-19 Response as reported in WebMD.
CDC rates indoor dining with reduced seating capacity and tables six feet apart as “even more risk.”
The CDC study found that those who have contracted COVID “are twice as likely as the general population to have eaten at a restaurant in the two weeks beforehand,” a study from the CDC in September reported.
Part of the problem is that those eating at restaurants cannot eat or drink with a mask on.
The CDC concluded that eating out is among the riskiest activities during a pandemic. So to me, it made sense to end indoor seating and probably made sense not to re-instate it to begin with.
But what about outdoor eating? Is there any evidence that the virus is being spread at outdoor restaurants? The National Restaurant Association said, “There is no clear evidence that the virus was actually contracted at a restaurant versus any other community locations.”
A report from Los Angeles TV Station, Channel 7 Eyewitness news found, “Data from the county health department shows a small percentage of outbreaks have been tied to restaurants and bars. But some have been cited for coronavirus-related violations.”
But LA’s Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer doesn’t think there is good enough data: “I wish we could answer this question. I think people would feel better if we could say with certainty where people got infected, but we just can’t.”
LA led the state in banning outdoor eating, and Dr. Ferrer pointed to county data that indicated food and beverage establishments “comprised roughly 41% of the 76 coronavirus-related citations issued in L.A. County during the first two weeks of November.”
Yolo County is shutting down outdoor eating after today? Should they? I don’t think we have good data to say that will make much of a difference.
I have even more trouble with restrictions on grocery store capacity. Mostly because I am not sure there is any data on it, and unlike restaurant eating this is a necessity. Not to mention the probability of panic and hoarding.
Yolo County, attempting to ward off that possibility, increased grocery capacity from 20 percent to 35 percent.
“On Sunday, December 6, additional restrictions were placed in Yolo County specifically directed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 by reducing interactions between people of different households. Under these restrictions, the capacity of retail industries was placed at 20% and included grocery stores in alignment with the State’s new Regional Stay Home Order. As of December 6, the State increased its capacity restrictions on grocery stores to 35%. Finding this capacity sufficient to still ensure 6 feet of distance between patrons,” a county press release stated.
“In order to ensure that California’s grocery stores are able to safely deliver sufficient quantities of food to California households, it is necessary to ensure capacity for grocery stores,” according to the supplemental order signed by Dr. Erica Pan, the California Health Department’s acting public health officer, on Sunday.
Seems pretty clear that the best way to avoid getting COVID is for everyone to wear a mask and socially distance. Is it necessary to limit capacity in grocery stores to accomplish that? Most of the time I have been in a grocery story, everyone has been wearing a mask and most of the time there is at least six feet of distance.
There seems to be strong evidence that workers at grocery stores are getting infected at higher rates. But it is not clear that reducing capacity is going to change that.
There is a hope that perhaps with a reduction in cases that these orders will be temporary. One point I have made is that we are yo-yoing in effect here. As cases go up, we ratchet up restrictions. As cases go down, we loosen them. Then the cases invariably go up again.
That’s a problem. We need to hold the line on some of this stuff until we get a vaccine and can distribute it more broadly.
Then again, does closing down outdoor eating and limiting grocery stores to 35 percent capacity, really address the broader issues? I get the need to send the message—and perhaps this sends that message—but it seems to me, it could be more evidence-based.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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