Food for Thought: Closing down, or closing early, Restaurants for Covid

Yesterday the Governor announced that restaurants and bars that have a license to serve alcohol must shut down by 11pm beginning and ending no earlier than January 3rd. The restrictions come as a result of increasing COVID numbers across the state that will only continue to rise through the end of the year.

Before I go further, I absolutely agree that we are not doing enough as a state to control the spread of COVID. We have a high positivity rate and the numbers per capita are some of the highest in the nation. Add to that we seem to be doing nothing more than asking nicely and forming task forces. I am also in a unique position for this since, in addition to working with restaurants, we are also a medical family. My wife is dealing with the realities of COVID every day in her position at Arkansas’ largest hospital and it is very real for us.

Seeing some action, any action, out of the governor who is promising. However the action seems to be directed in entirely the wrong way.

A quick look at the data would tell you that. Of the roughly 18,000 active cases in Arkansas, only 3% (610) people say they visited a restaurant in the window of 2 weeks since testing positive. While that number is still higher than we would like, consider this. Most restaurants close well before 11pm. So it is only late night restaurants and bars that are being restricted against. Bars (the most impacted category) accounted for 00.2% (37 cases).

Churches account for 4%, retail stores (which does include grocery) account for a whopping 10%. In fact, based on the report, a bar is about the safest place you can go. Yet no other category is being suggested at shutting down.

The big elephant in the room, however, is schools. The number is so high they do not even bother including it in the report, and instead hide it behind a separate report. Of the cases reported, 3,453 are identified as active cases from either a student, teacher, or faculty. That is nearly 20% of all cases that are directly tied to a school. This does not take into account contract tracing where parents, relatives, or other associated people contracted COVID from a student who was asymptomatic.

It also should be pointed out, that students cannot visit bars in the first place.

As a parent, I get it, closing schools would be hard. But schools are likely the root cause of most COVID cases in the state. The CDC estimates the reproductive number (R0) to be as high as 5.7, meaning of the 3453 known cases it could impact nearly 20,000 other people, and those are just the known cases, which is more than the current active case load.

Closing schools and going virtual until the end of the year is hard, there is no doubt. But the numbers easily point to that being the best option. Closing “places that serve alcohol” is just an ineffective scapegoat that plays to the governor’s base of people who still support things like blue laws. It does absolutely nothing while hurting businesses that are already struggling. I know of more than a couple of spots who are considering just closing up after this announcement.

Governor Hutchinson, I know you read this from time to time. Please, make decisions that actually control the virus rather than ones that give the illusion of doing something. It is a difficult decision, but the quicker we can control this the quicker we can get back to normal life and get the economy restarted. Making ineffective decisions just leads to a slow death for our industry and the people of our state.

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Food for Thought: Closing down, or closing early, Restaurants for Covid