PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - A study published in the journal "Nature" suggests reducing restaurant capacity even further to slow down the spread of COVID-19. Researchers analyzed cellphone data in large metropolitan cities to determine where people go the most and then rank those places for coronavirus risks.
Restaurants far exceeded other types of indoor facilities as super-spreaders.
Right now, Arizona restaurants can operate at 50% capacity. For months, restaurant owners have had to make tough decisions modifying hours and infrastructure to forge a path to survival. Breadfruit and Rum Bar co-owner Danielle Leoni says she only opens her restaurant once a month now to fulfill preorders and continue to pay employees. Leoni says she "crunched the numbers" for operating at half capacity and determined the restaurant would "run in the negative every month."
The study, titled "Mobility network models of Covid-19 explain inequities and inform reopening," found reducing a restaurant's capacity down to 20% can reduce new infections by 80%.
Dr. Shad Marvasti, with the University of Arizona's College of Medicine, says he is not surprised the study identified restaurants as high risk when they are operating at normal conditions. But he says Arizona leaders should take drastic action to stop the current spike in cases.
"You could make the argument that it would make sense to temporarily close these indoors settings for about two to three weeks and reevaluate, look at the impact to see if it makes a dent in the growth of cases," says Marvasti.
Any consideration about imposing more restrictions on restaurants must come with serious thought on how those restrictions will affect the state economy, says Elliott Pollack of Elliott D. Pollack and Company consulting services.
"We've regained more than half the jobs back but we would lose those jobs again if you went back to a lower capacity," says Pollack. "[Restaurants] can't make any money that way. In fact, they probably can't even break even."
Pollack says the pressure of public health regulations could lead to layoffs and spell doom for Arizona's economic recovery.
"A lot of businesses will not be back and a lot of individuals will be put in precarious financial situations that, without the proper assistance, could take years to bail out of," says Pollack. "It is not a pretty picture."