If You've Been Here, You're More Likely to Catch COVID, CDC Says

A new study released by the agency found that opening these places causes cases to spike.

The urge to get back to normal life is becoming stronger as we reach the one-year anniversary of U.S. lockdowns and as more and more Americans get vaccinated. This has led some state officials to begin to roll back important safety restrictions, even though experts warn that new daily COVID case numbers have plateaued at a dangerously high rate. Now, there's evidence that these decisions could have major consequences: A new study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that not only does allowing indoor dining cause cases to spike, but customers who have been to a restaurant are more likely to catch COVID than those who haven't. Read on to see what else the study found, and for more on what might be putting you at risk, check out If You've Done This Recently, You're 70 Percent More Likely to Get COVID.

Eating at a restaurant nearly doubles your chances of catching COVID.

Customers at tables and waitress in busy restaurant interior
iStock

The revelation comes as part of a new study released by the agency on March 5, which examined county-level data across the U.S. to determine the effect of mask mandates and indoor dining restrictions on COVID-19 case numbers and death rates. Results showed that areas where on-premise dining was allowed, whether indoor or outdoor, saw new cases begin to increase 41 to 100 days after restrictions were removed, followed by a 3 percent increase in deaths between 81 and 100 days after reopening.

The researchers pointed out that previous studies that were considered as part of the larger report had helped uncover the troubling trend. This includes a September report that found that "adults with confirmed COVID-19 were approximately twice as likely as were control-participants to have reported dining at a restaurant in the 14 days before becoming ill." And for more on where cases are climbing right now, check out This Is How High the COVID Risk Level Is in Your State, Data Shows.

Restaurants could become riskier as more diners get comfortable eating out again.

Young people with face masks on chins toasting with champagne flutes amid coronavirus
charmedlightph / iStock

The latest study's authors pointed out that conditions may become riskier as the result of restaurants eventually becoming busier, writing that "potential restaurant patrons might have been more cautious when restaurants initially reopened for on-premises dining but might have been more likely to dine at restaurants as time passed."

During a March 5 press briefing discussing the latest study, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, noted that the findings were clear: "You have increases in cases and deaths when you have in-person restaurant dining." And for more on what else could be putting you at risk, check out If You've Had This Common Illness, You're More Likely to Die From COVID.

The CDC urges restaurants to still follow their posted guidelines.

A male and female couple are waited on by a female server at an outdoor table while all wearing face masks

The latest study concluded that basic safety measures were important to keep COVID from spreading, with the authors writing that "policies that require universal mask use and restrict any on-premises restaurant dining are important components of a comprehensive strategy to reduce exposure to and transmission of SARS-CoV-2." They also emphasized that highly contagious variants of the virus that are currently spreading now make such safety measures even more important.

The research comes as an increasing number of states have begun to roll back or entirely remove restrictions on dining, with the agency cautioning that any restaurants that chose to operate should be sure to follow the agency's posted guidelines, The New York Times reports.

But even quarantining staff who test positive, requiring patrons to wear masks, and prioritizing outdoor dining doesn't guarantee safety. "It doesn't really matter if it's a restaurant, spin class, a gym, a choir practice—if you're indoors with no masks, low or no ventilation, we know that's higher risk," Gery P. Guy, a scientist with the CDC's COVID response team and the study's corresponding author, told The Times. "Respiratory aerosols build up indoors. It's that simple. This is a real problem for restaurants." And for more COVID news delivered right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Dr. Fauci has said he's not ready to go back to eating at a restaurant yet.

People eating in restaurant together
Shutterstock

While some might be eager to book dinner reservations, chief White House COVID adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, recently admitted that he's not ready to start dining at xrestaurants quite yet even though he's fully vaccinated. "I still do not do dining …  I still do takeout," he told Washington D.C.'s local NBC affiliate WRC-TV.

But that hasn't stopped him from helping out his favorite local establishments. "I want to continue to support the restaurants in my neighborhood that I would normally go to. We could cook at home every night, but we just go out deliberately to get takeout, at least a few times a week, maybe more," he said. And for more on what you could do to stay safe, check out These 3 Vitamins Could Save You From Severe COVID, Study Finds.

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Zachary Mack
Zachary covers beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He's the owner of Alphabet City Beer Co. in New York City and is a Certified Cicerone. Read more
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