Superspreaders in T-Town?

group of people drinking and talking

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Bars and other venues that serve alcohol in T-Town are potentially “superspreaders” of the Coronavirus.

Even talking in poorly ventilated, close quarters may be lethal. Al.com‘s John Sharp wrote:

The biggest concern with night clubs is the propensity for congregation, according to Dr. Ellen Eaton, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Division of Infectious Diseases. Mix alcohol with music, and people become “less diligent” toward hand hygiene and maintaining social distancing, Eaton said.

“Anytime someone is around and dancing and singing and after a few hours and a few drinks, folks are not mindful of face coverings,” said Eaton. “And as the hours pass on, I imagine you see less diligence with hand hygiene and sharing spaces and all of those are high-risk behaviors we would not recommend at this time.”

Eaton compared the risks at a night club to that of a choir practice that generated attention from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week. The CDC examined a deadly outbreak of a 2-1/2-hour choir practice that occurred in early March in Skagit County, Washington. Attended by 61 people, the March 10 practice infected 52 people (87%) with COVID-19 symptoms and has since been described as a “super spreader” event.

A new study, published Wednesday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that simply talking in a venue that is not well-ventilated, can transmit the virus from person to person through tiny droplets that are suspended in air for up to 14 minutes.

A CDC report on a superspreader event concluded:

The potential for superspreader events underscores the importance of physical distancing, including avoiding gathering in large groups, to control spread of COVID-19. Enhancing community awareness can encourage symptomatic persons and contacts of ill persons to isolate or self-quarantine to prevent ongoing transmission.

It’s no wonder that bars and restaurants are closing. An article by Restaurant and bar owners say social distancing could wipe out their industry.” Reporting that “bars are even worse off than restaurants,” they wrote:

Restaurant owners and managers are grappling with the brutal math that underpins their industry. Margins are razor thin, forcing eateries and bars to pack in customers every night, and especially on the weekends, in order to stay afloat. In the toughest markets, that means multiple waves of guests, and tables that are pushed together as closely as possible.

CNN‘s Shana Clarke described how restaurants might cope with the new strictures imposed by the pandemic. She wrote that restaurants might offer surgical gloves, hand sanitizer and masks to diners as they enter the premise.  Also restaurants might utilize disposable dishware and offer salt, pepper, ketchup and other condiments by request only.

After the University of Alabama ended its on-campus instruction in March, the cottage industry in the University’s vicinity that catered to students has been particularly hard hit. Traditional watering holes have closed for good, including Wilhagan’s Grille & Tap Room and The Downtown Pub. While neither of these establishments were primarily serving students, a hybrid bar/restaurant Innisfree known for its popularity with students has resorted to a form of social distancing.

Innisfree Pub is operating at fifty percent capacity according to a report by ABC 33/40:

Innisfree Pub reopened on Wednesday and told ABC 33/40 their increased safety plans.

“We’ve taken the precautions that we’re supposed to, but we’re just happy to be open and have people sitting down,” said Nick Snead, Innisfree Manager.

“You can’t cram three hundred people in here like we do on a game day, but we’ve moved the tables around and have around 160 people and if people are trying to group we’ll advise them [on] social distance,” Snead said.

ABC 33/40 reported that as of mid-May there had been twenty-two businesses in Tuscaloosa caught violating reopening rules. There were some incidents involving patrons who while waiting in line did not observe the required social distancing.

The University will reopen in August with some form of face to face learning. What methods of social distancing will be required by the school are as yet to be established.

Unless the Alabama Department of Public Heath‘s orders on operating bars and restaurants are considerably relaxed, many of the over twenty-five thousand returning University students will find it impossible to return to their routines that involved densely packed drinking environments.

It may well be that many of the venues that they were accustomed to patronizing may no longer be in business.

 

 

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