• A CDC study found that COVID-19 case and death rates sped up in counties where on-premise dining was permitted from March to December 2020.
  • Mask mandates were associated with a decrease in virus case and death growth rates.

 Related: Survey finds restaurants are still struggling and need federal aid quickly

A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found a correlation between allowing on-premise dining and a rise in COVID-19 rates and deaths last year. The study also found that mask mandates are linked to decreased virus rates and deaths.

While many elected officials and restaurant industry leaders have asserted that there is no hard evidence that indoor dining at restaurants leads to higher COVID-19 rates and deaths, the CDC study, which focuses on county-level statistics nationwide, came to a different conclusion.

“Allowing on-premises restaurant dining was associated with an increase in daily COVID-19 case growth rates 41-100 days after implementation and an increase in daily death growth rates 61-100 days after implementation,” a summary of the report states.

Mask mandates, on the other hand, were “associated with a decrease in daily COVID-19 cases and death growth rates within 20 days of implementation,” the study found.

The CDC analyzed coronavirus pandemic patterns between March and December 2020. It linked on-premise dining to a 0.9, 1.2 and 1.1 percentage point increase in the growth rate of daily cases between 41 and 100 days after on-premise dining was implemented. Daily death rates rose 2.2 and 3 percentage points within 61 to 100 days after implementation.

In counties where states allowed on-site restaurant dining, the study found, COVID-19 case and death rates sped up. In those counties with mask mandates, case and death rates slowed.

“Reducing person-to-person interactions by avoiding nonessential shared spaces, such as restaurants, where interactions are typically unmasked and physical distancing (≥6 ft) is difficult to maintain, can also decrease transmission,” the report states.

“Mask mandates and restricting any on-premises dining at restaurants can help limit community transmission of COVID-19 and reduce case and death growth rates,” the study concludes. “These findings can inform public policies to reduce community spread of COVID-19.”

The report arrived as many states and cities have been easing or lifting restrictions on indoor dining in restaurants and eliminating mask mandates altogether.

In a letter to the National Governors Association last November, the National Restaurant Association said restaurants were being wrongly scapegoated as coronavirus “super-spreaders.”

“There is an unfounded impression that restaurants are part of the problem, and we are suffering as a result of inconsistent, restrictive mandates,” said Tom Bené, president and CEO of the Association, in the letter.

“Data tying systematic community outbreaks of COVID-19 to restaurants has yet to emerge, but we are too commonly labeled as ‘super-spreaders’ and have become a convenient scapegoat for reflexive shutdowns,” Bené said.

In September 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a study finding that adults with positive COVID-19 test results were about twice as likely to have reported dining at a restaurant in the 14 days before they became ill as compared to those who tested negative.

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