Over the last few weeks bars and casinos across the USA have been closing again as more people head out of lockdown for drinks with friends. In Sydney this week, a visitor to the Crossroads Hotel has been diagnosed with COVID-19, and moved from one venue to another without symptoms, potentially spreading the virus to a number of other venues. So what makes pubs, clubs and casinos so different to other public spaces where people congregate?
In the US, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testifying before a US Senate Committee, said that “congregation at a bar, inside, is bad news” for the coronavirus.
From California, to Arizona, Florida, Colorado, and Texas, several US states that had previously allowed people at their local watering holes after months of home isolation, are shutting their doors once again. The wave of new precautions comes in the wake of dozens, and in some cases hundreds of new coronavirus infections in cities and states around the country being tied back to local bars.
This week in Sydney a gamer who unknowingly picked up coronavirus from The Crossroads Hotel in Casula, went to several NSW venues over a number of days before showing any signs of the virus, contributing without realising it to their closure for deep cleaning, and with staff and customers on high alert at The Star, Canterbury Leagues, Merimbula RSL, Murray Downs Golf, Cook at Kurnell and Highfield at Caringbah by late Monday afternoon, among others. There is an expectation that this will extend to further venues.
Here are seven good reasons why science suggests that hotels, clubs, and casinos need to be on top of their COVID-19 plans:
1. The coronavirus thrives, survives, and moves quickly indoors
It doesn’t matter whether you’re at a church service, singing karaoke, gambling in a casino, drinking at a bar, working in an office, going to the gym for a workout, using an elevator, or celebrating at a house party – more and more evidence from around the world continues to suggest that being inside, for prolonged periods of time, with other people and their germs, is the best way to catch COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
A study from China (which is still under review) found that among 318 coronavirus outbreaks in that country, only one occurred outside. The other 317 happened indoors. Another examination of COVID-19 cases in Japan (also under review) found that the odds of COVID-19 transmission in a closed, indoor environment were nearly 19 times higher than out in fresh air.
2. Singing, cheering, and speaking loudly all help the coronavirus spread well between people
A recent report from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, which studied coronavirus cases across Japan from January to April, found that many of that country’s coronavirus clusters tended to sprout up when people did heavy breathing in close proximity, including “singing at karaoke parties, cheering at clubs, having conversations in bars, and exercising in gymnasiums.”
Try ordering another beer without raising your voice, at least a little, in a crowded hotel
3. After a drink or two (or more), physical distancing and other forms of self-restraint might begin to disappear
A recent review of 172 studies showed that wearing a mask and keeping at least 1.5m apart (or more!) are the very best ways to avoid catching the coronavirus from others. How possible, really, is it to adhere to those rules in a bar, while sipping drinks, and chatting with friends?
4. Summertime sunlight can kill off a lot of virus, but there’s little to no sun in a bar
A recent study in the Journal of Infectious Diseases found that the coronavirus is “rapidly inactivated” by the sun. Using simulated sunlight and saliva in the lab, scientists recorded that the virus decayed by 90% after about 6 minutes in summer sun, and 19 minutes if it was late winter or early fall. Similarly, on a sunny day, the US Department of Homeland Security estimates the virus decays by 90% in less than 9 minutes, and by 99% in just over 17.
5. Taking off a mask (which you need to do to drink) ups a person’s risk of infection
“You see people at bars not wearing masks, not avoiding crowds, not paying attention to physical distancing,” Fauci said during his recent Senate complaints.
“You can get outdoors, you can interact – wear a mask, try to avoid the close congregation of people, wash your hands often. But don’t just make it all or none,” Fauci added. “We’ve got to be able to get people to get out and enjoy themselves within the safe guidelines that we have.”
Be prudent about when, where, and how you take off your mask, making sure to stay well out of spitting distance of your friends when you’re drinking.
6. People who don’t look or feel sick spread the virus best of all
Scientists are learning that people who show no symptoms of the coronavirus are just as good at spreading their illnesses to other people as those who do develop the dry cough, fever, shortness of breath, loss of smell, and other tell-tale signs of this virus.
What’s more, people tend to spread the coronavirus best before they ever know they are sick, whether they’re ultimately symptomatic or not, which means bars full of seemingly healthy patrons could be hotbeds for viral spread.
“You could be in the restaurant, feeling perfectly well, and start to get a fever,” the World Health Organisation’s Executive Director of Health Emergencies Mike Ryan said during a recent Q&A. “You didn’t think you’d need to stay home, but that’s the moment at which your viral load could be actually quite high. It’s because the disease can spread at that moment that the disease is so contagious. That’s why it’s spread around the world in such an uncontained way.”
7. After months with no work, many bar workers find it harder to stay home if they get symptoms
While all club and hotel staff are aware of the need for extra care, it’s hard to know what level of symptom means you have to stay home. After being closed for business for months and stuck at home without money coming in to pay the bills, bar owners and wait staff alike are in a situation where its harder to make the decision to stay at home.
That way, you’re protecting the workers, who will be in a very precarious situation if they get sick.
What are other places around the world doing to help stop the spread in enclosed venues?
- The Royal Standard in Oxfordshire UK has banned drinkers under the age of 25 after 8pm because they can’t stick to social distancing rules and are putting staff and customers at risk
- Many European venues, where it is currently summer, are only opening outdoor areas, street seating and beer gardens for seated customers. No seating is made available indoors.
- A bar with a young demographic in Maryland USA added bumper tables to its outdoor areas so guests can move and walk around freely without ever coming closer than 3m to one another
- Also in the “it could only happen in England” bucket is the idea from management at The Star Inn in St Just, Cornwall, who have put up an electric fence at the bar to ensure punters maintain social distancing while visiting the popular venue. The pubs’ website says “a friendly welcome [is] assured” but it has not been updated to make mention of the electric fence. Probably a little extreme, but we might get there yet!
- Waiters at a restaurant in Brussels, Belgium, wore face masks with pictures of themselves. The goal was to cheer up the long-awaited diners and greet them with a smile. Wearing face mask is standard practice for both staff and guests in casinos and bars in the USA and Europe. The practice has long been accepted as a priority in venues in most Asian nations. There is still much debate about wearing masks in Australia