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Virologist: Washington should consider closing restaurants, bars to keep schools open

Emily Valentine, a teacher at Yung Wing School P.S. 124 teaches students attending class in person on October 01, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

As Washington’s COVID outbreak continues to escalate, the state could soon be facing some tough choices regarding what to close. Georgetown University virologist Dr. Angela Rasmussen, though, suggests that closing businesses like restaurants, bars, and gyms could be a viable trade-off for getting schools fully reopened.

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That’s a suggestion echoed by Dr. Anthony Fauci, who told ABC on Sunday that closing bars and keeping schools open could be an effective path forward. Rasmussen points to success seen in an approach used in Germany, which recently enacted its own lockdown restrictions in late October, while opting to keep schools open.

Similar measures were also taken in France, Ireland, and the United Kingdom.

“Other countries have really done that pretty successfully,” she told KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show. “I do think it is a good idea to close bars and restaurants and gyms and businesses like that for the sake of keeping schools open.”

When it comes to where COVID is transmitted most frequently, the difference between restaurants and schools appears to be sizable. A study from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control released in August found that children comprised under 5% of all COVID cases in 27 European Union countries, and that closing schools would be “unlikely to provide significant additional protection of children’s health.”

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Recent data released by Public Health — Seattle & King County came to the opposite conclusion for dining, concluding that restaurants accounted for “the second highest number of non-healthcare-facility outbreaks since the pandemic began,” comprising 15% of cases over a 60-day period reported by those who responded to contact tracers.

Those findings aren’t much of a surprise to Rasmussen, given the significant risk of exposure posed by indoor dining.

“Hearing that data does not surprise me in the least,” she said. “Indoor restaurants have multiple risk factors for transmission, so it does make sense to me from a virology perspective why those would be hotbeds for COVID transmission.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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