Anywhere that people gather, COVID can spread—but that doesn't mean all locations come with the same level of risk. Experts argue that certain places are so dangerous to the public that they should be shuttered altogether, until case counts wane significantly. In particular, Robert R. Redfield, MD, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) who completed his term with the change of administrations, just suggested that bars should close until further notice. Read on to find out Redfield's recommendation, and for more from the new chief, check out The New CDC Director Warns This COVID Precaution Could Be Tightened.
Though mass business closures have been met with pushback, Redfield was quick to note that he has always believed fighting COVID can be compatible with a functioning economy. "It wasn't an either/or—we showed that in schools. You can still keep businesses, hospitals, et cetera, open and do it in a safe and responsible way," he said in a Jan. 20 exit interview with The New York Times. However, Redfield made one exception: "I would argue that having people in a crowded bar, drinking three or four beers without their masks, talking louder and louder so they spray their respiratory secretions further and further, is probably something that needs to be curtailed," he said.
Research corroborates Redfield's perspective that indoor bars, which tend to be poorly ventilated and overcrowded, translate into a high risk of passing COVID on to others. According to an analysis by The Washington Post, which used cell phone location data to track the virus's spread, states that reopened bars after closures in Sept. 2020 experienced doubled rates of COVID cases three weeks after reopening, on average.
Wondering what other experts have to say on the matter? Read on for more expert opinions on the danger of bars during the pandemic, and to learn the warning signs you should know, check out If You Notice This in Your Mouth, You Could Have COVID, Experts Warn.
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Closing bars allows states to open schools.
Anthony Fauci, MD, our nation's top immunologist, has made his stance on bars perfectly clear: in places with high caseloads, bars should be the first to go. Referring to states that are considered threat level "red zones," Fauci said in August: "If you are a red state and you want to get your schools open, you can ask yourself the question—you have a choice. You can either close the bars or close the schools." He added, "If you want to have people congregating in bars, it's likely you're going to stay red. If you do something about that, it's very likely you'll transition to yellow or green." And for more on how the virus spreads, check out You're More Likely to Get COVID From Someone Doing This Than From Coughing.
Closing bars can cut down on a lot of disease.
Bjarke Frost Nielsen, a researcher at the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen, told The New York Times in October, "You can close down certain types of gatherings and a few types of places and tamp down the majority of the spread of the disease. And you can carry on with the rest as pretty normal." Nielsen, who studies the pattern of COVID's spread using mathematical modeling, notes that COVID is heterogeneous. This means it's most commonly spread in "burst-like outbreaks" at localized hotspots—bars being a prime example. And to decode your COVID symptoms, check out This One Thing Could Determine If Your COVID Case Will Be Severe or Mild.
You can't wear a mask when you drink.
Ogechika Alozie, MD, an infectious disease specialist in El Paso, Texas, told NPR in August that bars are ideal settings for the virus to spread. "If you were to create a petri dish and say, 'how can we spread this the most?' It would be cruise ships, jails and prisons, factories. And then it would be bars." Alozie added, "As we talk, we spray. As we cough, we spray. That's where you get the most potential for transmission of these respiratory viruses. The reality is, to drink, you can't wear a mask. So you're taking off your mask. Lots of people, tight spaces—and as we all know, alcohol is a disinhibitor." And for the masks you shouldn't be depending on, check out The CDC Warns Against Using These 6 Face Masks.
We could pay bar owners to close.
As necessary as experts may say it is to close the majority of indoor bars, the economic suffering of bar owners should not be left out of the equation. Some experts suggest that the government should pay proprietors to close their businesses, for the sake of public health. "That may sound radical, but it makes scientific sense and even has a political precedent," writes Elisabeth Rosenthal, editor in chief of Kaiser Health News, for The New York Times. "We pay farmers not to cultivate some fields (in theory, at least, to protect the environment), so why not pay bars that cannot operate safely to shut down?" And for more on staying safe from COVID, check out The Most Popular Mask May Also Be the Least Effective, Study Finds.