States impose curfews on bars and restaurants as Covid-19 cases soar

Restaurants and bars in New York, like The Smith, shown above on Thanksgiving day, are among those in a number of states required to close early amid new coronavirus restrictions.

(Kaiser Health News)As states and cities around the country enact curfews on bars and restaurants to limit the spread of Covid-19, many different calls are being made on "last call."

In Massachusetts, eateries must stop serving at 9:30 p.m. New York, Ohio and an increasing number of states are setting 10 p.m. closing times for indoor dining, while in Oklahoma, bars and restaurants can keep the rounds going until the wee hour of 11 p.m. In Virginia, alcohol has to be off the tables at 10 p.m. but restaurants can stay open until midnight.
With coronavirus outbreaks being traced back to bars and restaurants, curfews are being embraced not just by governors but also by many restaurant and bar owners who see them as a more appetizing alternative to the total cessation of indoor dining.
"I do think things need to be a little bit tightened down," said David Lopez, general manager of Manny's Restaurant in Kansas City, Missouri, and incoming president of the city's restaurant association. Mayor Quinton Lucas ordered a 10 p.m. curfew that took effect Friday.
    "When you close at 10 p.m, you're taking away a good portion of that time when people are standing with no mask on," Lopez said. "Each hour that goes by and you're standing in the same space, you make yourself more susceptible to contracting the virus."
    Along with anecdotal reports that as the evenings wear on, an older set of rule-abiding diners are replaced by younger, more defiant — and often more intoxicated — patrons, there has been some empirical evidence to justify the curfews. In Minnesota, public health authorities found that among people who tested positive for Covid-19 and had visited a restaurant, those who visited after 9 p.m. were twice as likely to be part of an outbreak cluster.

    Do curfews work?

    To some epidemiologists, establishing cutoff times ignores the fact that the coronavirus does not obey curfews. But they endorse any tool that helps slow the spread.
    "It's a half measure and maybe less than a half measure, but that's better than no measure at all," said Raymond Niaura, interim chair of the epidemiology department at the New York University School of Global Health.
    From June 1 to November 16, 190 outbreaks in Minnesota — involving 3,201 infected people — were traced back to restaurants and bars by public health authorities. That represented 46% of the outbreaks in public settings. Weddings came in second, with 107 outbreaks (14%), followed by sports (11%), gyms (11%), social gatherings (9%), churches (4%) and funerals (3%). In all, there were 4,145 unique cases from all these kinds of gatherings out of the 250,000 infections Minnesota has cataloged since the start of the pandemic.
    The benefit of curfews may come not primarily from targeting the late-night revelers but by curtailing the number of patrons at restaurants and bars. "Their effect is to reduce the amount of time that will allow people to congregate," said Stephen Kissler, a research fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
    In an interview with KHN, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, expressed broad concern about inside dining given the aggressive Covid-19 spread. Fauci did not make any distinctions in the time of day.
    "If we're in the hot zone the way we are now, where there's so many infections around, I would feel quite uncomfortable even being in a restaurant, particularly if it was at full capacity," he said.