Story at a glance
- States have put in place stricter policies for bars and restaurants due to rising coronavirus cases.
- Curfews in some states restrict residents from leaving their homes at night unless for work or school.
- Some experts worry that restrictions like these will lead people to more dangerous behavior like gathering indoors in private homes.
Some states are imposing curfews for bars and restaurants, and in some cases gyms, due to the rising numbers of new coronavirus cases. For example, in New York, those three types of establishments had to start closing at 10 p.m. instead of 11, except for restaurants providing takeout. And in Massachusetts and Colorado the restrictions are even more severe where residents aren’t supposed to be outside between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. unless they are going to work or school. Other states with curfews include Ohio and Maryland.
But how helpful will curfews and shorter hours be in stopping coronavirus spread?
The short answer is that it depends on how people react and whether they end up in large groups indoors when outdoor options are limited. “Curfews often condense people visiting businesses into a more narrow period of time, which often means more crowding and potential exposures,” says Saskia Popescu, who is an infectious disease epidemiologist at George Mason University, to Slate.
“Viruses are not vampires,” says Angela Rasmussen, who is a virologist at Georgetown’s Center for Global Health Science and Security, in an email to Slate. Rasmussen goes on to make the point that if daytime hours of operation are not affected, people may still be exposed at similar rates to before the curfew was imposed.
“Curtailing the evening for dining by an hour or so isn't likely to make a very large impact," says William Hanage, who is an epidemiologist at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, to USA Today. "I can't think of a single place where further action was not necessary."
Hanage also worries that people leaving bars and restaurants will then go indoors to homes where the risk is higher. He tells USA Today that indoor dining should instead be put on hold and restaurants only be allowed to do outdoor dining and takeout.
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The Massachusetts curfew was put in place in conjunction with limits on the number of people at indoor and outdoor gatherings, which are 10 and 25 people, respectively. That could be a good strategy to implement these restrictions together, but cutoff times may still end up being arbitrary and potentially harmful if it changes people’s behaviors to become riskier, experts warn.
In New York, private home gatherings were capped at 10 people, simultaneously with the earlier closing times. Indoor dining is still allowed at 50 percent capacity in New York state, except for New York City where it is 25 percent. New York City closed all school buildings as of today, although indoor dining is still allowed, something only the governor can enforce.
Curfews are a “blunt” tool to try to keep people at home more. At best, it leads to people taking the coronavirus situation more seriously. At worst, it pushes people to find other ways to continue to socialize and puts them at even greater risk than before. Curfews and earlier closing hours might be enforceable, but caps on private home gatherings less so.
“Everything that helps people stop coming into contact with other people is critical right now," says Michael Levy, who is an epidemiologist at the University of Pennsylvania, to USA Today. "We need to put our foot back on the brakes."
For up-to-date information about COVID-19, check the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. For updated global case counts, check this page maintained by Johns Hopkins University or the COVID Tracking Project.
You can follow Chia-Yi Hou on Twitter.
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