Proper Data Interpretation Essential for Consumers, Restaurants, and Reporters
Now, more than ever, it is essential that the public is able to make decisions about activities outside of their home based on complete and accurate information about the spread of coronavirus. The National Restaurant Association, together with our 50 state restaurant association partners, represents the entirety of the restaurant and foodservice industry, and our health experts review daily the greatly varying datasets available from state and local health departments. Additionally, we take seriously our responsibility to fairly and accurately present industry data and work alongside members of the media to help consumers make data-driven decisions. The success of our industry, and the millions of people it employs, depend on it.
Recently, a number of articles have been published with selective data points that fail to offer a thorough and accurate assessment of the safety of restaurants. Furthermore, the articles often use contact tracing as a way to draw a correlation between dining in a restaurant and the spread of the virus. Several health officials have noted that contact tracing data from state and local health departments have been generally inconsistent, which paints an unreliable picture. In areas where reliable data do exist, the data point to the fact that restaurants are responsible for a much smaller percentage of cases, especially in comparison to other businesses that remain open. Furthermore, a careful examination of the full data reveals that it is customer behavior outside the venue that is a major contributing factor in transmission.
Kimberly Hertin, Disease Surveillance Supervisor in the Office of Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance for the Southern Nevada Health District, recently stated that contact tracing efforts focus on the person with a confirmed case to make sure they don’t spread it to others, not identifying the source of that person’s infection. She has said “Once you’ve reached the point of community spread with this virus, it’s hard to jump to that conclusion of any clusters or outbreaks.” Similarly, in Washington, DC, city officials have not closed restaurants because they are unable to identify which permitted activities are driving new infections.
For example, in Maryland, 9% of people who tested positive for COVID-19 indicated they had been to a restaurant; however, almost twice as many people who tested positive were traced back to family gatherings. That’s a critical piece of the dataset that consumers need to know. In Louisiana, an ‘outbreak’ is considered two or more cases that have visited the same site within 14 days; however, a correlation between outbreaks and actual number of cases cannot be made. In the data provided from Louisiana, there were 38 ‘outbreaks’ in restaurants resulting in 167 cases. Yet, in casinos, there were 7 ‘outbreaks’ resulting in 200 cases.
While some states may point to indoor dining at restaurants as a risk factor, we still cannot find evidence of a systematic spread of the coronavirus coming from restaurants who are effectively following our Restaurant Reopening Guidance, encouraging guests to wear masks, social distancing, and practicing good hand hygiene. In effect, the lack of a direct correlation should be evidence that, when restaurants demonstrate effective mitigation efforts, the risk is low.
Having balanced and accurate information is critical for consumers, businesses, and government officials. The experts at the National Restaurant Association are always available to serve as a resource for any journalist or media professional working to interpret data points on the spread of coronavirus.
Together, we share the goal of equipping the public with clear data that can help them understand the facts and make well-informed decisions.
Please contact Vanessa Sink, firstname.lastname@example.org, for more information.