Study finds COVID-19 patients more likely to report dining in at restaurants before getting sick

Posted at 5:01 PM, Sep 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-11 19:16:57-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Vanderbilt University Medical Center suggests dining at restaurants may increase your chances of getting COVID-19.

The report surveyed more than 300 patients who tested negative and positive for the virus in 11 hospitals across the country in July. It found adults with COVID-19 were more than twice as likely to report dining in a restaurant in the 14 days before getting sick, compared to patients without the virus.


“These are preliminary findings but it looks like people who visit restaurants and dine in tend to have the higher risk of coming down with COVID in the next two weeks,” Dr. Wesley Self of VUMC told NewsChannel 5.

The National Restaurant association strongly disagrees with these findings, saying in a statement that "the lack of a direct correlation should be evidence that, when restaurants demonstrate effective mitigation efforts, the risk is low when dining outside or inside." They also add that their restaurant reopening guidance encourages customers to wear masks, social distancing, and proper hand washing for employees, all efforts used to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 in the community. You can read their entire statement below in this story.

Self doesn't believe this research should be used to close restaurants. “We really aren’t saying all restaurants should be shut down, but similar to other activities, understand if there’s some increased risk and how to reduce that risk we do think is important,” Self said.

The study does not include if the patients were dining inside or outdoors.

While researchers are still collecting data, Self believes dine-in restaurants have the same risk as bars. He says the goal of the study was to analyze places for exposure including homes, work and shopping areas but restaurants seemed to have a common thread among patients who tested positive and showed symptoms.

The report mentions how exposure in restaurants has been linked to air circulation. Direction, airflow and intensity might affect the virus transmission even with safety guidelines in place, the report stated.

Recommendations for people who choose not to take out our get delivery are to wear masks when not eating or drinking, staying socially distanced and avoid sharing utensils and dishes.

The study took many restaurants owners aback including Jim Hagy of Chef’s Market in Goodlettsville. With safety protocols in place including checking employees’ temperature and wiping down tables and chairs, Hagy described the study as a gut punch.

“It’s really thoughtless and really targeting one set of business and one set of industry unfairly,” Hagy told NewsChannel 5.

Hagy believed customers will remain safe and will not be deterred.

The National Restaurant Association full statement can be read below:

“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 (COVID-19).

We still do not find evidence of a systemic 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 when dining outside or inside.

The methodology used in the recent CDC article focused on the transmission of COVID-19 and restaurant visits contains numerous flaws, and the conclusions of the study are insufficient to guide consumer behavior. Across myriad industries including gyms, restaurants, and retail, the conclusions reached by the researchers are not supported. Furthermore, the results calling out restaurants specifically are not supported by the data nor the methodology.”