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National Restaurant Association responds to CDC study linking dining out with higher risk for COVID-19

Report fairly faulty in methodology, conclusions, suggests Association

The National Restaurant Association is pushing back against a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that attempts to correlate dining out with a higher risk for contracting COVID-19. A study from the CDC, “Community and Close Contact Exposures Associated with COVID-19 Among Symptomatic Adults ≥18 Years in 11 Outpatient Health Care Facilities” suggests that going to onsite eating and drinking locations might be important risk factors for SARS-CoV-2 infection because of the lack of social distancing and mask-wearing that can take place.

The Association, however, has stated that there is no evidence of “systematic spread of the coronavirus” from eating and drinking places that follow its Restaurant Reopening Guidance. According to the restaurant advocacy group, the lack of “direct correlation” shows there is low risk when restaurants are engaged in effective mitigation efforts.

In addition, the Association points that the CDC study is full of errors and the conclusions lack the ability to provide true guidance to consumers. Of course, correlation doesn’t equal causation, and a low-participant study that tracks habits that are generated from recall can be misguided.

Furthermore, there’s no direct correlation between dining out and contracting COVID-19. Dining out was one of several activities that study participants self-reported, including going to the gym, going to a salon or barber shop, etc.

The study also acknowledges limitations and challenges that were part of the study, which can be considered caveats. (Read the five limitations on the methodology here.) Another issue was that the CDC did not discern between dining outdoors and indoors when it asked respondents about eating out; and coffee shops and bars were not distinguished, but it’s clear hey provide two differentiated types of environments and different exposure levels.

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According to an announcement from the National Restaurant Association, “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. We continue to urge restaurants to follow the National Restaurant Association’s Reopening Guidance developed in conjunction with the CDC, FDA, and their state and local guidance.”

Photo credit: Louis Hansel (featured preview image)

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