Does eating at a restaurant or drinking at a bar increase the risk of contracting COVID-19 more than other social activities? A new study from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention answers the question as most states are allowing people to dine indoors again.
The study found that people who tested positive for COVID-19 were twice as likely to have reported dining out in the 14 days before their diagnosis than those who tested negative.
In addition to dining at a restaurant, case-patients were more likely to report going to a bar/coffee shop, but only when the analysis was restricted to participants without close contact with persons with known COVID-19 before illness onset.
Participants were asked about possible community exposure in the two weeks leading up to their test, including whether they recently dined at a restaurant, worked at an office, went shopping, went to the gym, attended a church gathering, or used public transportation frequently.
They also had to rate how well they followed social-distancing measures at the location of each activity.
The researchers found:
42% of those who tested positive said they had close contact with at least one person with COVID-19, most of whom (51%) were family members, two weeks before their test.
A lower proportion — 14% — of the participants who tested negative reported having close contact with a person with known COVID-19 in the same frame.
71% of the people who tested positive, and 74% of those who tested negative, said they always wore a face covering while in public in the two weeks before their test.
Researchers noted some limitations to the study.
Participants did not have to specify whether they ate indoors or outdoors while dining out, they said, adding that more research was needed to establish whether the findings would be similar to a larger group of people.
The CDC guidelines currently say that takeout, drive-thrus, or delivery services pose the lowest risk of contracting the coronavirus from a restaurant, while the highest risk would be offering indoor and outdoor dining where tables are neither reduced nor spaced at least 6 feet apart.
Meanwhile, going to the beach or doing outdoor activities has been deemed low-risk by experts.
Experts have previously warned that air circulation in indoor spaces and gatherings — like restaurants — could affect virus transmission.