Apparent COVID Clusters Around Restaurants In Connecticut Provoke Controversy | Connecticut Public Radio
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Apparent COVID Clusters Around Restaurants In Connecticut Provoke Controversy

Jan 9, 2021

Restaurant owners say recent data released by the Connecticut Department of Public Health that appears to show COVID clusters centered on eateries doesn’t paint an accurate picture. It’s sparked yet more controversy in the continuing debate over dining during the pandemic.

According to a release from the department dated Dec. 23, 2020, the total of epidemiologically linked clusters investigated by the state’s outbreak team was 84.

The most -- 21 clusters -- was reported around restaurants, with 19 at workplaces.

Chip Kohn, owner of Beachland Group in West Hartford, says the categorization is misleading.

“We need to be [classified as] a workplace spread because that’s what we are,” he said. “We spread like any other workplace. It’s really not going to our guests, to our customers, it’s going to our employees.”

The state data does not show whether the cases in the 21 clusters reported were restaurant workers or patrons.

John Paindiris, owner of Effie’s Place in West Hartford, says if officials believe restaurants are behind the spread, then their workers should be some of the first to get the vaccine in Phase 1B of the rollout.

“They are workplaces and more restaurants are open than offices right now, so yes there’s going to be a higher percentage coming from restaurants, because we have a larger percentage and a larger number of these businesses that are running in the state right now,” he said.

Even so, Dr. Manisha Juthani, an associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at Yale School of Medicine, says restaurants weren’t meant for social distancing.

“Places were not designed to work socially distant -- that was not the way they were designed,” she said. “It’s not that easy to have rooms in settings where you need to have a number of different people.”

Juthani has said she did not recommend indoor dining during the pandemic because of the proximity of people eating without masks.

“Restaurants just happen to be a poor victim in all of this, because that is the nature of the restaurant business -- to be unmasked,” Juthani said.

DPH officials urge caution over drawing conclusions, saying the data is not representative of all outbreaks in the state and doesn’t definitively prove transmission started at these locations.

Outbreaks in health care and higher education settings are tracked by those institutions, so they are not included in the DPH release.