Arlington, VA

Virginia started Phase 3 of its reopening on Wednesday, allowing more activity in indoor public spaces like restaurants and gyms.

While the Commonwealth remains one of just over a dozen states where the COVID-19 epidemic is in decline, some fear that further reopening could send us in the direction of Texas, Florida and other states currently seeing a virus resurgence.

In recent days, both Florida and Texas reversed course and closed bars. California, which has also seen a big jump in coronavirus cases, yesterday announced that it would “shutter indoor operations at restaurants, museums, bars and other venues” for at least three weeks. And New York is delaying its plans to reopen indoor restaurant dining rooms.

A growing body of research suggests that restaurants — indoor settings where where diners sit near one another and converse for extended periods of time — are fertile ground for coronavirus infections. More evidence of that from USA Today:

Money spent in restaurants and supermarkets could offer insight into how fast or slow the coronavirus pandemic may spread.

According to a note from Jesse Edgerton, an economist with JPMorgan Chase, the level of spending in restaurants three weeks ago – most notably in-person versus online – was the strongest predictor of a surge in coronavirus cases during that time period.

Based on spending by 30 million Chase credit and debit cardholders, Edgerton found that higher spending in supermarkets predicted a slower spread of the virus, suggesting consumers are practicing “more careful social distancing in a state.”

Outdoor settings, meanwhile, are believed to be safer, as the respiratory particles that spread the virus are quickly diluted in the open air. That’s why Virginia’s Phase 1 reopening included only outdoor dining and why Arlington has allowed restaurants to expand their outdoor dining areas.

Do you think Virginia should stay the course and see what happens, bring back Phase 2 restrictions, or try to preempt a possible resurgence by closing indoor dining areas altogether? That latter, while perhaps safer, could be a death knell for many already-struggling local restaurants, however.

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