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Save the Restaurants (and other COVID Victims)

If you haven’t been driving around much in the last, say, oh, six months, take a drive. It’s safe and you can do it without a mask.

What may strike you is this: your favorite bars and restaurants may be closed (for good). Or closing or in trouble. Sadly, these familiar places are also victims of COVID-19.

These are, without question, perilous times of political, social, and economic chaos, confusion, and uncertainty. We are bludgeoned each day with the emerging threat and evolution of COVID-19 and battered by conflicting and rapidly shifting recommendations from the public health, political, and medical communities.

Graphs, charts, and percentages and educated predictions dominate the headlines. No one knows where this multi-headed hydra will emerge with a vengeance, again. We see tremendous geographic differences in the occurrence of this pandemic. Adjacent cities and states can have radically divergent new cases and deaths based upon social behaviors.

But let us create our own GPS to guide us through the pandemic fog. After all, our life and the lives of our families hang in the balance. And so do the livelihoods of our friends in the hospitality industry.

Despite political rancor and confusion, we must follow three solid fundamentals about protecting ourselves from COVID that have been well described and scientifically based (wear a mask, wash your hands, be aware of the risks of crowds).

Okay, we all get it—hardly new news. But we can more confidently shift the odds in our favor by understanding a relatively small study from the upper Midwest.

In one city, 314 people sought outpatient care for an upper respiratory illness. Those who were COVID positive were more than twice as likely to have been in a bar or restaurant compared with those who were COVID negative. And in these establishments it would have been difficult to eat and drink and continuously have a mask in place. In such places, despite distancing guidelines and tables separated, individuals are typically in close contact with each other.

An additional study confirmed that individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 were almost four times as likely to have been in bars or coffee shops and almost three times more likely to have been in a restaurant. I don’t need a study with statistical analysis to say with confidence that my friend’s twenty-something daughter who went to a bar brought COVID home and infected her immunocompromised father who is in the hospital right now.

We now know that becoming infected with COVID-19 has ominous health consequences in the short term and later. Of course, there is the acute event that puts you in bed wanting to die or in the ICU possibly dying. But we are now aware of the “long haulers.” These are individuals who do survive the initial event but may have long-term impacts on intellectual functioning, chronic fatigue, and heart disease caused by COVID.

Becoming exposed to the virus in most circumstances is not a random event. Becoming infected almost always follows a pattern of direct contact with someone who was shedding the virus. Armed with credible knowledge from responsible authorities, we can alter our behaviors to shift the odds in our favor.

My wife and I have started to order takeout to help our favorite restaurants weather the storm. We long for the day when we can go into an eating establishment without having to wear a mask, sit at a table near other people we know, order and eat our favorite meals, chat happily with the server, shake hands with the restaurant owner who is a friend, and welcome us all back to the world.

Until then, order to go and eat in your home and stay safe.

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