The Case for Opening Up: How New York City Restaurants Can Bounce Back

Although he had time to write a book about his leadership role in navigating the global COVID-19 pandemic, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has not yet taken the time to review data about restaurant closures and the impact on the business survival, economy and health of New York’s citizens. But luckily, we can eat still outdoors…

While we all love to argue the politics of shut-downs and cite the latest numbers we heard on the news, we really haven’t done any of our own “research” other than google some things or read a couple of articles and spout the latest information at each other without critically analyzing it objectively. My anger comes from the lack of common sense of our politicians in allowing the restaurant industry to flounder and fail with no regard to how their decisions actually play out in the real world.

*Note: This article was written prior to Governor Cuomo’s announcment on Wednesday, January 27th to re-open restaurants at 25% capacity beginning on February 14th. However, I was waiting on official approval to publish the affidavit cited in thie article. The statements and data below still hold true.

Dr. Qanta Ahmed, (@MissDiagnosis) a pulmonologist and critical care specialist based out of NYU Langone, conducted research of her own. She volunteered her time where she was to operate an Intensive Care Unit at the height of the pandemic in March & April.
Dr. Ahmed has authored books, spoken on news-stations (CNN, Fox News, and more), reported as a journalist, volunteered on the front-lines of health crises in the UK and Saudi Arabia, and has been an advocate against anti-semetism in the Middle East and the U.S.

The affidavit she brings forth – cited at the bottom of this page – is to show the politicians in New York the dangers these strict shut-downs have implemented. The business closures sound good in theory and show the act of initiative on behalf of our elected officials, but the decisions are not backed by any major study or critical peer-review. The governors of these states, New York and California primarily, are quite frankly throwing things at the wall to see what sticks, in hopes that they will be heralded as the heroes of COVID. If there was substantial evidence that the states with the most strict lockdowns had the best numbers, that would be one thing. However, the impact of these lockdowns does more than just damage industry. The effects are numerous – solitude, loss of income, relationship struggles, depression, substance abuse, lack of community, and dozens more. Many of the shut-downs have had the opposite of their intended effect, as Dr. Ahmed recognizes, the shut-downs have forced families to “congregate in poorly ventilated residential settings where anti-contagion measures are not being exercised, social distancing cannot be observed, and mental health progressively deteriorates.”

If we’re going to cite statistics, let us talk briefly about an important one:

By Governor Cuomo’s own self-reported data based on contact tracing of approximately 46,000 data points, household gatherings and/or household/social gatherings account for 73.84% of the spread of COVID-19 during the three months that were measured.  “

While this is only a “snapshot” of the pandemic, it is nonetheless and important one. We have only available to us the data provided on the public domain. However, these numbers were reported in October and November, well before any vaccination roll-outs began, and before the holiday wave of infections predicted by most experts.

Looking at the data, nearly three-fourths of all COVID spread has been due to small household gatherings. The remaining spread lies a long tail of minimal spread attributed healthcare delivery and higher education students. At the bottom at that list, coming in at a whopping 1.43%, is exposure at bars and restaurants. Dr. Ahmed’s finding was that the Governor’s lockdown rules came under the mere assumption that the most untraceable infections came from public establishments, like restaurants, without any mention of small household gatherings. She writes, “this punitive assumption, the implication that the majority of untraceable infections are assumed to come from public establishments including restaurants, is unfairly burdening the restaurants with the scientifically flawed reasoning that fails to account for unmeasured household transmission, which is almost certainly the source of a vast majority of untraceable contacts based on the data concerning household transmission of COVID-19.”

‘Unfair’ doesn’t begin to describe what has happened to the restaurant industry. Anecdotally, I have seen several restaurants in my neighborhood close over the last several months, and not for lack of trying or adhering to the new ‘rules’. One local restaurant just across the street from our apartment, had to close after less than two years in business because they could no longer afford the $13,000 monthly rent. The owner poured her personal savings in the last several months just to stay afloat, even investing $4,000 of her own money to build an outdoor dining shed that could accomodate just four tables. It’s sickening to me, to idly sit by as we watch our politicians let the restaurant industry go belly up, while big-business chains like McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Chipotle have record years.

Dr. Ahmed’s findings are that these bars and restaurants, that have been subject to the most harsh mitigation strategies of mask-wearing, social distancing, hand-washing, temperature checking, and reduced capacity “harbor some of the lowest proportion of case propagation in New York State. “

Again she states that “the level of present restrictions on the bar and restaurant industry seems disproportionate to disease propagation and also perhaps a misuse of public resources when household transmission is so very high and yet not addressed, or more disturbingly, is being ignored.”

We never had to pay much attention to our governors, mayors and local politicians. Now we see how greatly their quick conclusions and mandates can affect our lives without any say, discussion or critical look into the pros and cons of such decisions. The public need not be treated like children receiving a band-aid for a boo-boo. Rather, we deserve trust, transparency and education from our elected leaders and our hard-working physicians on how to handle our everyday lives responsibly and with consideration to one another.

There’s been limited discussion from our leaders and the media on the long-term health effects of these lockdowns. Why is there no such talk of maintaining a healthy diet, exercise, walking outdoors, and a daily supplement dosage? According to a study from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, six physicians found that Vitamin D deficiency is associated with COVID-19 risk, and that “testing and treatment for vitamin D deficiency to address COVID-19 warrant aggressive pursuit and study.”

I’m not worried about going out in public, however, if I do I at least want to know how best to combat the illness with preventitive measures in keeping a healthy immune system. Daily Vitamin D supplementation would be a start. Dr. Mark Gordon, expert in the field of neuroregenerative medicine and the treatment of Traumatic Brain Injuries, was recently a guest on the popular podcast, the Joe Rogan Experience. I took notes on his recommended supplement intake for COVID prevention and treatment, and have been taking these for the last several months.

Supplements

  • Quercetin
    • 500mg twice a day (preventative)
    • 1000mg twice a day (treatment)
  • Zinc
    • 15mg twice a day (preventative) 
    • 30mg twice a day (treatment)
  • Vitamin D3
    • 5000mg a day, or more, taken after a meal
    • Take capsules, not liquid (due to liquid’s low absorption rate)

Foods:

  • Turmeric, Curcumin, Green Tea, Legumes, Seafood, Red Meat, Cheese (for calcium), Bone Broth, Citrus Fruits (oranges for Vitamin C) 

In Dr. Ahmed’s studies, she also notes the rise in crime, suicide, homelessness and the mass exodus of people leaving New York, thus massively lowering the tax base for our state. “The loss can be enormous and will approach unprecedented dimensions given the economic losses New York State has borne.”

Scarier even is the possibility of secondary attacks, meaning members of a household in which one person has COVID-19 spreading the virus to other members at high rates. The evidence within these studies concludes when our reliance on the institutions of the local community diminish (i.e. churches, schools, restaurants, bars), “households continue to be an ongoing source of disease transmission and pandemic expansion which can continue reseeding the community.”

In a document filled with great lines that will have tremendous impact, this one may take the cake:

People, displaced from work, confined to crowded, poorly ventilated homes in which they converse, cohabit, and eat without social mitigation measures are compelled to remain in the precise environment that has been identified as the greatest source of the spread of the virus, the household… Home quarantine and isolation remain a medieval approach with only limited effect while the infection burns through society.

I’m optimistic after seeing Governor Cuomo’s latest release that restaurants can open at 25% capacity starting on February 14th, but this does not mean that I am satisfied. It disgusts me how these politicians have let businesses fail and people suffer without taking the time to truly analyze the data and have an open dialogue about the impacts of their decisions. We need to trust people to be responsible, and punish those who are not. We can’t enact blanket authoritarian rules for an entire industry, letting only the strong survive.

I would feel safer going to a restaurant adhering to social distancing, temperature checks, mandatory employee mask-wearing, hand sanitizer stations, contact-less menus, and serving disposable containers and cutlery than to a family party with thiry people hugging, kissing, shaking hands, sharing drinks and sitting inches from each other. I don’t know, maybe that’s just me. Maybe we’re making too much sense…

-KB

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