News and Commentary

Analysis Shows Restaurants, Gyms, Hair Salons Were Not A Significant Source Of COVID Transmissions, But There Are Caveats
A person walks by a restaurant that went out of business in the East Village as the city continues the re-opening efforts following restrictions imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus on October 21, 2020 in New York City.
Noam Galai/Getty Images

It turns out that bars, restaurants, gyms, hair salons, and a whole host of other businesses government health officials said would be hotbeds of coronavirus spread as states reopen were no such thing.

ABC News analyzed publicly available data and determined that, as states have begun to reopen across the country, the places experts claimed spread the disease have accounted for only a small percentage, if any, of new cases.

There are many caveats to this information, however. Mitigation measures, such as reduced capacity and requiring face masks to be warn, may have helped reduce the number of new cases. People’s avoidance of these places, since they were essentially determined to be death traps during the initial pandemic panic in 2020, may also have helped keep numbers low even as states are slowly reopening.

Another issue is that the data is limited, with only a few states publicly releasing COVID-19 tracking information in a way that organizes the data by business sector. Contact tracing is also limited, with very few cases able to be traced back to a potential source.

Still, the analysis should make people feel less apprehensive about returning to normal life. ABC looked at publicly available data in four states — California, Illinois, Michigan, and North Carolina — and Washington, D.C., and found that less than 5% of new COVID-19 cases in those states came from bars, restaurants, gyms, etc. in those states.

Additional states also released data that helped with the analysis even if they didn’t categorize the data by business sector.

“States that publicly released data about outbreaks since reopening included Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, North Carolina and the District of Columbia. Their data helped provide some insight into where COVID-19 did and didn’t spread during the initial reopening of 2020,” ABC reported. “For instance, in California and North Carolina, outbreaks were noted in a variety of settings including in bars, gyms, restaurants, manufacturing, retail and health care facilities since each state began some form of reopening — January 2021 for California and late May 2020 for North Carolina, based on the data collected.”

ABC found that “Manufacturing and food processing centers appeared to have been among locations with some of the biggest outbreak numbers since states reopened.” In North Carolina, for example, the state “recorded 4,803 cases related to meat and poultry factories between May 22, 2020 and the end of March 2021.” By comparison, the state has had 2,406 cases linked to religious gatherings since May 2020.

According to the data, Michigan “was the only state to record over 1,000 cases related to a bar or restaurant, with 1,100 incidents recorded after Aug. 27.” ABC added: “After Washington reopened its economy in July, it reported 311 COVID-19 cases related to restaurants and bars, according to health data. In North Carolina, 327 cases were linked to eateries and bars after the state reopened on May 22, the health data showed.”

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