The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has released a new report warning that dining out could be one of the riskiest activities to participate in amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
The report, released by the US agency on Thursday, examined 314 people who experienced symptoms of the virus, asking them about activities they had participated in before they were tested.
Generally, all respondents reported participating in activities such as going to church, gyms and stores. However, those who tested positive, about half of the people, were about twice as likely to say they had dined at a restaurant.
“Eating and drinking on-site at locations that offer such options might be important risk factors associated with Sars-CoV-2 infection," the study reads.
When the analysis was restricted to only those who tested Covid-positive without any other known exposure to a Covid-positive person, patients were also more likely to say they'd been to a bar or coffee shop.
“If people are going to eat out, they need to be thoughtful about how they're going to do it,” Dr Todd Rice, a co-author of the report and an associate professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told NBC News.
”Even if I'm sitting at a table and the food hasn't arrived yet, I still wear a mask. I won't sit at a table that's next to somebody else," he added.
The study linked the increased risk in restaurants and bars to an inability to wear masks while eating and drinking and closer individual proximity.
“Efforts to reduce possible exposures where mask use and social distancing are difficult to maintain, such as when eating and drinking, should be considered to protect customers, employees, and communities," the study says.
The report comes as most states are beginning to reopen their economies in one form or another and dine-in services in a number of areas across the country see relaxations.
New York governor Andrew Cuomo confirmed on Wednesday that New York City will be permitted to re-open indoor dining on 30 September at reduced capacity, and with adherence to strict regulations. Outdoor had previously been allowed in the five boroughs.
One limitation noted in the CDC report is that the researchers did not distinguish whether participants visited indoor or outdoor venues.
The participants lived in states with varying levels of reopening guidelines: California, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Utah, and Washington.
The agency still lists that the lowest restaurant dining options for preventing the spread of the virus include food service limited to drive-through, delivery, take-out, and curb-side pick up.
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