The 3 Key Places That Need to Close in COVID Hotspots, Experts Say

These places must be closed in hard-hit areas to stop surging coronavirus case numbers.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought about closings and re-closings. In March, most of the United States shut down to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Just two months later, in May, states and businesses started to reopen—a decision many blame for the resurgence of coronavirus cases this summer. As August rolls in, this surge has yet to diminish, and some states have even started closing places again. But how can areas contain a coronavirus surge without shutting down completely? According to experts, COVID hotspots need to close three places again to help offset spiking coronavirus cases: indoor dining, bars, and gyms.

"Key mistake political leaders are making is acting on belief that leaving indoor dining, bars, gyms open is good business," Ashish K. Jha, MD, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, tweeted on Aug. 1. "This will cause schools to be closed all fall, winter."

Jha is not the first to raise the alarm around keeping indoor dining, bars, and gyms open. When four doctors were asked to rate the risk level of 36 activities, bars, indoor dining, and gyms all scored above a 5 on a level of 1 to 10. According to these doctors, bars were the absolute riskiest, especially since "after a couple of drinks, [people start] to feel a little more invincible," Nasir Husain, MD, said.

Gyms were also rated highly because people release more respiratory secretions when working out and breathing heavily, and indoor dining is risky because the same air is recirculated throughout a building. Since people can't wear masks and eat at the same time, it's easier to spread the virus to people who are even farther than six feet away.

Waiter serving food in a luxury restaurant with face mask Covid 19

And data appears to show that states that experienced a surge in coronavirus cases are the same ones that reopened these three places early. Yelp's Economic Average report looked at data from the second quarter of 2020 and compared the search activity of people looking at business pages related to restaurants, bars, and gyms as COVID cases increased. What they found was that the 10 states with the largest increase in Yelp search activity in May (indicating they were reopening these places) were Florida, Idaho, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Kansas, and Alabama—all of which experienced a sharp increase in COVID cases during the month of June.

In comparison, many states that saw a decrease in COVID cases that same month—Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Connecticut, Maryland, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Illinois—all had no uptick in consumer search activity for restaurants, bars, or gyms.

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The sentiment that these places are the riskiest has also been backed up by Linsey Marr, an engineering professor at Virginia Tech with expertise in the airborne transmission of viruses. Marr tweeted on Aug. 2 that "the problem is not people at the beach or parks; it's people indoors in restaurants, bars, and house parties," after a photo of people social distancing at a beach appeared alongside a front page article from The New York Times about coronavirus surges.

Some states have listened to the experts, it appears. California, the state with the most coronavirus cases in the country, saw Gov. Gavin Newsom issue an emergency order on July 13 to immediately re-close indoor dining and bars statewide. He also forced 30 hard-hit counties to close gyms. According to The New York Times, three former state hotspots—Texas, Arizona, and Florida—also rolled back on their openings for bars. Arizona re-closed gyms, as well, but all three states still allow indoor dining at restaurants.

However, even some closures appear to be making a difference. All four of these states have seen cases decrease or stay the same since re-closing at least some of these three risky places. And for more on the nationwide COVID surge, This Previously "Safe" State Just Saw a Surge in COVID Cases.

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