Sharks and Ice Cream; COVID-19 and Restaurants
Washington, D.C. – The National Restaurant Association released the following statement on the CDC’s Association of State-Issued Mask Mandates and Allowing On-Premises Restaurant Dining with County-Level COVID-19 Case and Death Growth Rates:
As vaccination rates continue to rise and indoor dining capacity in many states is increasing, it is critical that diners have reliable information about the safety of restaurant dining. The report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today is more an ill-informed attack on the industry hardest-hit by the pandemic than a reliable piece of scientific research.
In its own publication, the CDC notes numerous flaws in the report. First, although research models did control for mask mandates, restaurant and bar closures, stay-at-home orders, and gathering bans, the models did not control for other policies that might affect case and death rates, including other types of business closures, physical distancing recommendations, policies issued by localities, and variances granted by states to certain counties (some variances were not made publicly available).
As a result, the observed phenomena could be attributable to myriad variables.
Furthermore, correlation does not equal causation. For example, if a positive correlation between ice cream sales and shark attacks is found, that would not mean that ice cream causes shark attacks. For restaurants, customer behavior outside the venue remains the major contributing factor in COVID-19 transmission.
Second, the CDC did not measure compliance with and enforcement of safe operating policies. We still do not find evidence of a systemic spread of the coronavirus coming from restaurants who are effectively following our COVID-19 Operating Guidance, encouraging guests and employees to wear masks, social distance, and practice good hand hygiene. In effect, this lack of a direct correlation should be evidence that, when restaurants apply effective mitigation efforts, the transmission risk is low when dining outside or inside.
Finally, the analysis did not differentiate between indoor and outdoor dining, adequacy of ventilation, or adherence to physical distancing and occupancy requirements.
It is irresponsible to pin the spread of COVID-19 on a single industry. Restaurants have historically operated with highly regulated safety protocols based on the FDA’s Food Code and have taken additional steps to meet the safe operating guidelines required by CDC, FDA, OSHA, federal, state, and local officials during the pandemic.