As states ease their blockages, the bars are emerging as fertile breeding grounds for the coronavirus. They create a risky cocktail of narrow neighborhoods, young adults unafraid of illness, and, in some cases, homeowners who do not impose crowd limits and social distancing rules.
Public health authorities have identified the bars as the site of the outbreaks in Louisiana, Florida, Wyoming, and Idaho. Last weekend, the Texas alcohol licensing board suspended 17-bar liquor licenses after undercover agents observed crowds mocking emergency rules that required customers to keep a safe distance from each other and limit the occupation of the tavern.
Adriana Megas found HandleBar Houston so crowded when it was one night two weekends ago that she left. “They weren’t counting who came in and out,” said Megas, 38, a nursing student. “No one wore masks. You would never think that COVID happened.
The owners of HandleBar Houston, one of the bars whose licenses were suspended, did not respond to requests for comment. Megas said she and her friends went through five other jammed bars on the way home. “The street was madly busy,” he said. “Each bar was full.”
Photo on the handlebar in Houston ⬇️ 2/3 pic.twitter.com/kOiJTBqm9p
– Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (@TexasABC) June 21, 2020
In Boise, Idaho, at least 152 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in cases where health authorities linked up with people who, unaware that they were infectious, visited bars and nightclubs, authorities said. On Monday, the Central Health District, which oversees four counties, withdrew its reopening rules to close bars and nightclubs in Boise Ada County.
Bars are tailor-made for the spread of the virus, with loud music and a cacophony of conversations that require loud voices. Alcohol can impede judgment about diligently following rules designed to prevent infection.
“People hardly want social distance if they go to the bar,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, principal investigator at the Johns Hopkins University Health Safety Center in Baltimore. “They are going to drink alcohol, which is a social lubricant. People will often speak out loud, and if they have a forceful speech, that will create more drops. ”
In addition to that, the very act of drinking is incompatible with wearing a mask, a primary way of limiting the spread of infection. Public health experts say many clients are young adults who may think they are immune to the coronavirus.
It’s certainly less deadly to them: Less than 4% of adults in their 20s with COVID-19 have been hospitalized, compared to 22% of those in their 60s, according to the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. . Only 1 in 1,000 COVID-19 patients in their 20s die from the virus.
However, as bars and other public places open, infection rates increase in younger adults, and bars are a particularly dangerous vector. Several outbreaks have been traced to bars serving college students. In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, health authorities have received reports of more than 100 cases of positive COVID-19 tests related to visits to bars and bar employees in Tigerland, a neighborhood frequented by students from Louisiana State University.
Reggie Chatman, a 23-year-old LSU graduate and sports journalist at a Baton Rouge television station, said he was surprised at how crowded Tigerland bars were when he passed them last weekend.
“It seemed like a football weekend. It was amazing, just seeing so many people walking, “he said. “Each bar had a line in front of it. It didn’t seem like they were really preventing anyone from entering. I didn’t see a mask out there at all.
Jason Nay, the general manager of Fred’s, one of the bars there, said the bar closed two days last week to screen all employees after three workers were COVID positive. The business reopened on Friday night, but it only had five customers.
“This shows you how many people know what is going on,” he said. “Even the students who thought they were invincible weren’t comfortable hanging out.” He said Fred will check customers’ temperatures and deliver disposable masks this weekend.
Nay, 37, said she believed most of the students had been actively socializing for months by having friends at home. “I don’t think they changed anything until recently, and I think the main reason they changed is because their parents really broke them because they could have brought that home for Father’s Day,” she said.
There are around 43,000 bars in the country. Because many states allow them to reopen, authorities have enacted various measures to mitigate the chances of infection. Earlier this month, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis allowed the bars to open at half capacity with social distancing. This week he warned that violators are at risk of losing their liquor licenses if “it is like chaos and like ‘Dance Party USA’ and it is packed to the brim.”
In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott decreed that bars should limit indoor service to half their legal occupancy, keep tables for 10 people or less, and require 6-foot spacing between groups. “There are certain counties where most of the people who tested positive in that county are under 30, and this is generally the result of people going to bars,” Abbott said at a press conference earlier this month.
Last weekend, undercover inspectors from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission visited nearly 600 bars and restaurants in the main urban areas of Texas. The commission posted videotapes of two bar scenes and a photograph of a third bar on Twitter, all showing customers standing shoulder to shoulder and chatting face to face. Those bars and 14 others had their liquor permits suspended for 30 days, with the threat of a 60-day suspension for a new violation.
On its Facebook page, one of the bars sanctioned by the commission, BARge 295 in Seabrook, near Houston, said its license was suspended “for allowing some customers to stop and meet at the bar. [S]Saturday night (no six-foot rule). “The bar, which has been promoting its live music, whole pork roasts and a bikini contest, said it would appeal the action.
“Everyone in the country is aware of the situation and has the ability to think for themselves and decide when and where they want to interact socially,” the bar said in a series of posts. “This BS needs to end now. Come and support local businesses. “
Other bar owners have found the mandates manageable. Greg Barrineau, owner of several bars in the San Antonio area, said he rearranged tables and stools to meet state requirements. “The guidelines are not that difficult to follow,” he said. While the state does not require masks, it said the county administrative officer and the mayor decided to fine companies if customers did not wear masks, and most customers did.
“You walk in the door, you sit down and take off your mask,” Barrineau said, adding that he wasn’t sure how big the difference is. “If they were waiting in line outside and in the bathroom, then they would use them.”
JC Díaz, president of the American Nightlife Association, which represents bars and clubs, said it has been more difficult for bars to force the use of masks because it has been highly politicized. “The problem now is that people don’t adhere to mitigation measures,” he said. “We are doing what we can do to prevent the spread of COVID, but if you are a reckless guest who doesn’t care about the health of others, you shouldn’t be out.”
Masks alone cannot solve the problem, said Dr. Ray Niaura, acting chairman of the department of epidemiology at the New York University School of Global Public Health. The risk of contagion is impossible to eliminate in bars, especially since many infected people are asymptomatic. “Even if you distance the tables, you will still have groups of people together,” he said.
The nursing student Megas said crowds have not deterred her from planning to return to Houston bars despite the continued spread of the coronavirus. “I’ve studied it enough and I think it’s been happening long enough to make me feel very comfortable,” she said. “There’s a little part of me that’s like, ‘I’d like to get it now, while I’m not in school.'”