Study Finds Correlation Between Restaurant Spending and COVID-19 Surges

A new study by JPMorgan notes a connection between increased restaurant spending and a surge in coronavirus cases a few weeks later, as Fortune reports.

JPMorgan looked at spending by 30 million Chase credit and debit card holders and compared those numbers to coronavirus case data provided by Johns Hopkins University. The study found that spending patterns from a few weeks ago “have some power in predicting where the virus has spread since then.”

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In fact, noted JPMorgan analyst Jesse Edgerton, “the level of spending in restaurants three weeks ago was the strongest predictor of the rise in new virus cases over the subsequent three weeks.”

“Card-present” transactions—those made by a person dining in or paying in the restaurant rather than ordering online—were “particularly predictive” of a later surge in COVID-19 infections, the study found.

The study also found a correlation between supermarket spending and the slower spread of the coronavirus. For example, supermarket spending in states like New York and New Jersey—which have seen a decrease in coronavirus cases—has increased 20 percent or more from a year ago. Meanwhile, states like Texas and Arizona—which are experiencing COVID-19 surges—saw supermarket spending go up by less than 10 percent compared to the previous year.

The correlation suggests that “high levels of supermarket spending are indicative of more careful social distancing in a state,” Edgerton wrote.

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However, in addition to restaurant spending, there are other factors at work in states that are experiencing a surge in coronavirus infections. The National Restaurant Association issued a statement to that effect, noting, “It is irresponsible to pin the rise of [COVID-19 cases] on a single industry. Restaurants have historically operated with highly regulated safety protocols based on the FDA’s Food Code and now have taken new steps to meet social distancing guidelines required by state and federal officials. We all have responsibility for wearing masks, washing hands and social distancing.”

As the coronavirus surges in Texas, Governor Greg Abbott recently ordered the state’s bars to stop serving alcohol on-premise and scaled back restaurant seating capacity from 75 percent to 50 percent. Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, also prohibited on-premise alcohol sales but has not imposed any new limits on restaurant capacity.

According to the Los Angeles Times last week, four of the first Southern California counties to reopen restaurants for dine-in service are now experiencing “a dangerous rise in coronavirus hospitalizations.” These counties are Ventura, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside. The surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations began after Memorial Day, around the time when officials began quickly reopening the economy, the LA Times reports.

The newspaper notes that “there are a variety of possible reasons for the spikes,” including large social gatherings. Nationwide, many Americans have declined to wear masks or adequately practice social distancing in public as well, despite repeated urgent warnings to do so from public health officials.

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