Last Call for COVID: To Avoid Bar Shutdowns, States Serve Up Curfews

Last Call for COVID: To Avoid Bar Shutdowns, States Serve Up Curfews

As states and cities around the country enact curfews on bars and restaurants to limit the spread of COVID-19, many different calls are being made on “last call.”

In Massachusetts, eateries must stop serving at 9:30 p.m. New York, Ohio and an increasing number of states are setting 10 p.m. closing times for indoor dining, while in Oklahoma, bars and restaurants can keep the rounds going until the wee hour of 11 p.m. In Virginia, alcohol has to be off the tables at 10 p.m., but restaurants can stay open until midnight.

With coronavirus outbreaks being traced back to bars and restaurants, curfews are being embraced not just by governors but also by many restaurant and bar owners who see them as a more appetizing alternative to the total cessation of indoor dining.

“I do think things need to be a little bit tightened down,” said David Lopez, general manager of Manny’s Restaurant in Kansas City, Missouri, and incoming president of the city’s restaurant association. Mayor Quinton Lucas ordered a 10 p.m. curfew that took effect Friday.

“When you close at 10 p.m., you’re taking away a good portion of that time when people are standing with no mask on,” Lopez said. “Each hour that goes by and you’re standing in the same space, you make yourself more susceptible to contracting the virus.”

Along with anecdotal reports that as the evenings wear on, an older set of rule-abiding diners are replaced by younger, more defiant — and often more intoxicated — patrons, there has been some empirical evidence to justify the curfews. In Minnesota, public health authorities found that among people who tested positive for COVID-19 and had visited a restaurant, those who visited after 9 p.m. were twice as likely to be part of an outbreak cluster.

To some epidemiologists, establishing cutoff times ignores the fact that the coronavirus does not obey curfews. But they endorse any tool that helps slow the spread.

“It’s a half measure and maybe less than a half measure, but that’s better than no measure at all,” said Raymond Niaura, interim chair of the epidemiology department at the New York University School of Global Health.

From June 1 to Nov. 16, 190 outbreaks in Minnesota — involving 3,201 infected people — were traced back to restaurants and bars by public health authorities. That represented 46% of the outbreaks in public settings. Weddings came in second, with 107 outbreaks (14%), followed by sports (11%), gyms (11%), social gatherings (9%), churches (4%) and funerals (3%). In all, there were 4,145 unique cases from all these kinds of gatherings out of the 250,000 infections

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