NRA, Slapfish CEO criticize CDC's new COVID-19 warning

Published on
March 8, 2021

The National Restaurant Association (NRA) and Slapfish CEO Andrew Gruel are speaking out against a new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report linking an increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths to on-premises dining at restaurants.

In the Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report, the CDC reviewed county-level data on mask mandates and on-premises dining restrictions from March through December 2020. The CDC found that allowing on-premises dining at restaurants was associated with a 0.9 percentage point increase in the COVID-19 case growth rate on days 41 through 60 after on-premises dining restrictions were lifted, a 1.2 percent increase in the case growth-rate between days 61 and 80, and a 1.1 percentage point increase in the case growth- rate between days 81 and 100.

Allowing on-premises dining at restaurants was associated with 2.2 and 3 percent increases in the death growth rate on days 61 to 80 and 81 to 100 days, respectively, after restrictions were lifted, according to the CDC.

Mask mandates were associated with a 0.7 percentage point decrease in daily COVID-19 death growth rates up to 20 days after implementation and decreases of 1 percent between days 21 and 40, 1.4 percent between days 41 and 60, 1.6 between days 61 and 80, and 1.9 percent 81 to 100 days after implementation, respectively, the CDC said.

The NRA said in a press release that the report is “more an ill-informed attack on the industry hardest-hit by the pandemic than a reliable piece of scientific research.”

“It is irresponsible to pin the spread of COVID-19 on a single industry," the NRA said. “We still do not find evidence of a systemic spread of the coronavirus coming from restaurants that are effectively following our COVID-19 operating guidance, encouraging guests and employees to wear masks, social distance, and practice good hand hygiene.”

Correlation does not equal causation, the NRA pointed out.

“For restaurants, customer behavior outside the venue remains the major contributing factor in COVID-19 transmission,” it said.

Slapfish Restaurant Group Chief Executive Officer Andrew Gruel told SeafoodSource he agrees with the NRA’s statement. When California shut down indoor and outdoor dining at the end of 2020, COVID-19 cases spiked, Gruel said.

“This goes against this entire thesis,” he said.

In addition, as restaurants were allowed to reopen in all states, so were many other businesses, Gruel noted.

“Why would they specifically target restaurants?” he said.

Gruel, former star of Food Network's “Food Truck Face Off,” has been outspoken about California’s dining restrictions for months. Slapfish kept its Los Angeles restaurants open for indoor and outdoor dining in December, even after a government ban on both indoor and outdoor dining was issued for 11 counties, including Los Angeles County.

The CDC study also doesn't take into consideration the behaviors of people who contracted COVID, according to Gruel.

“Were they going out to eat, or were they being less disciplined about distancing, spending time with people outside their family?” he said. “The detail is lacking.”

The CDC itself noted numerous flaws in the report, according to the NRA.

“First, although research models did control for mask mandates, restaurant and bar closures, stay-at-home orders, and gathering bans, the models did not control for other policies that might affect case and death rates, including other types of business closures, physical distancing recommendations, policies issued by localities, and variances granted by states to certain counties,” it said. “As a result, the observed phenomena could be attributable to myriad variables.”

The CDC’s analysis did not differentiate between indoor and outdoor dining, adequacy of ventilation, or adherence to physical distancing and occupancy requirements, the NRA said.

Photo courtesy of Slapfish

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