CDC study links restaurants to higher rate of COVID-19 transmission

A new COVID-19 study by the Centers for Disease Control suggests there is a higher risk of virus transmission for in-person restaurant dining than some other community activities. The team of researchers examined data from adults at 11 facilities across the nation who tested positive for COVID-19 and compared that with a control group of adults without COVID-19.

"Those who tested positive were more than two times as likely to have eaten on site at a restaurant in the preceding two weeks," said Dr. Jennifer Wilson, a clinical associate professor of emergency medicine at Stanford University who was part of the research team.

She noted that the study was preliminary and did not explore one big distinction.

"This study did not look at the difference between indoor and outdoor dining, but I think that's going to be an important follow-up question to this study," said Dr. Wilson.

The study found similar levels of mask-wearing between the groups.

"In the 14 days before illness onset, 71% of case-patients and 74% of control-participants reported always using cloth face coverings or other mask types when in public. Close contact with one or more persons with known COVID-19 was reported by 42% of case-patients compared with 14% of control-participants (p<0.01), and most (51%) close contacts were family members," the CDC study authors wrote.

"Interestingly when we just looked at people without a close contact, they were also more likely to have reported going to a bar or a coffeeshop in the preceding 14 days," said Wilson.


The study's authors noted that restaurants, bars and cafes pose a unique challenge because masks cannot be worn while drinking and dining, whereas other activites such as shopping, getting salon services, or riding public transportation allows people to wear masks.

"If you're getting a manicure or a pedicure, you can still wear a mask. You can't really do that if you're in a restaurant," said Dr. John Swartzberg a clinical professor emeritus U.C. Berkeley's School of Public Health. Swartzberg says the study also did not explore differences in table spacing, air circulation and other precautionary protocols

"All restaurants are not the same. If you have got a restaurant that has excellent air circulation, moving it away from people, exchanging the air frequently in the room, that's probably a much lower risk," said Swartzberg.

"As long as I'm able to distance and the air is flowing then I feel safer for sure," said Tara Roysdon, who was visiting Napa from Pennsylvania

In Napa, low mmunity SARS-CoV-2 transmission have led county officials to allow restaurants to operate outdoor and limited indoor dining with strict coronavirus prevention protocols

"We check everybody's temperature before they enter the restaurant," said Matt Miersch, owner of Pasta Prego restaurant, "We went from having tablecloths to plastic coverings that we disinfect between every guest."

"We've definitely opened up the doors and windows and we have a lot of air flowing through the restaurant right now," said Miersch.

"I always wear a mask when I go out and into a new section and then I take it off to drink the water or what not," said Jilli Redmond, a Napa diner.

"Each of us has to make an individual decision about our risk tolerance," said Dr. Swartzberg.

Jana Katsuyama is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Jana at and follow her on Twitter @JanaKTVU or Facebook @NewsJana