As governors around the country consider new or stricter restrictions to control the latest surge in coronavirus cases, a recently published study identifies restaurants, cafes and gyms as some of the places having the highest risk of coronavirus spread outside the home.
The study, published this week in the journal Nature, looked at data from millions of Americans, tracked by their phones as they went about daily life during the first wave of the pandemic this spring.
They used the data and an epidemiological model to run simulations on viral spread at points of interest outside the home. Their findings in the simulations closely matched actual coronavirus caseloads, according to the Washington Post.
“We found large variation in predicted reopening risks: on average across metro areas, full-service restaurants, gyms, hotels, cafes, religious organizations, and limited-service restaurants produced the largest predicted increases in infections when reopened,” the study states.
Researchers say these locations pose more risk because the mobility data, data showing how mobile people are at these places, shows Americans tend to spend longer amounts of time and at a higher density of people.
Their models add support to pandemic measures around the country that limit capacity at some of these points of interest, including capping indoor gatherings to a certain percentage or number of people.
“Reducing maximum occupancy substantially reduced risk without sharply reducing overall mobility: capping at 20% maximum occupancy in the Chicago metro area cut down predicted new infections by more than 80% but only lost 42% of overall visits, and we observed similar trends across other metro areas,” researchers stated.
The study also looked at disparities in lower income neighborhoods, where more of the population has to leave their home for essential jobs, grocery delivery may not be available or is financially not possible, and businesses tend to be smaller and potentially more crowded.
“Because disadvantaged groups suffer a larger burden of infection, it is critical to not just consider the overall impact of reopening plans but also their disparate impact on disadvantaged groups specifically,” the study states.
The researchers hope the information is helpful to policymakers and city leaders as they consider reopening restrictions.