A February bar opening in Illinois led to 46 COVID-19 infections, illustrating the perils of operating a drinking establishment during the pandemic, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC offered up the cautionary tale in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report issued Monday. The report said the bar opening occurred in mid-February in a rural Illinois county.
“Overall, 46 COVID-19 cases were linked to the event, including cases in 26 patrons and three staff members who attended the opening event and 17 secondary cases,” the report said. “Four persons with cases had COVID-19–like symptoms on the same day they attended the event. Secondary cases included 12 cases in eight households with children, two on a school sports team, and three in a long-term care facility (LTCF).”
Virus transmission linked to bar opening also forced a school closure that affected 650 children, as well as the hospitalization of one long-term care resident, per the report.
The debacle serves as a stark example of what can go wrong in a bar setting during the pandemic, the CDC said.
“These findings demonstrate that opening up settings such as bars, where mask wearing and physical distancing are challenging, can increase the risk for community transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19,” the report said.
The report laid out steps bars should take to promote public safety.
“As community businesses begin to reopen, a multicomponent approach should be emphasized in settings such as bars to prevent transmission,” the report said. “This includes enforcing consistent and correct mask use, maintaining ≥6 ft of physical distance between persons, reducing indoor bar occupancy, prioritizing outdoor seating, improving building ventilation,” and promoting behaviors like staying home when ill.
Prior to bar opening, the report said, the Illinois Department of Public Health had reported a seven-day average of daily COVID-19 infections of 41 to 42 cases per 100,000 persons in the county that houses the watering hole.
Two weeks after the opening, the report said, the rate had more than doubled to 86 to 87 cases per 100,000 persons in the county.
“Bars can play a role in community spread of COVID-19 because of limited mask use while eating or drinking and lack of consistent physical distancing,” the report said. “These findings show that SARS-CoV-transmission originating in a business such as a bar not only affects the patrons and employees of the bar but can also affect an entire community.”
As businesses reopen, the report continued, “considering additional prevention measures is important, such as limiting building occupancy levels and improving ventilation, especially in locations where consistent and correct mask wearing and physical distancing are difficult to enforce.”
Businesses, the report said, “can work with local health officials to promote behaviors and maintain environments that reduce the risk for SARS-CoV-2 transmission and develop strategies for reopening safely to prevent outbreaks in the community, such as modifying layouts and operating procedures.”