Why bars are a breeding ground for the coronavirus, and you should always take your drink to-go

Why bars are a breeding ground for the coronavirus, and you should always take your drink to-go
A bartender pours a beer for a customer at Shade Bar NYC in New York on June 22, 2020.Associated Press
  • Bars are closing — again — in several states across the US, as more people who head out for drinks with friends are getting infected with the coronavirus.
  • But in other places, including the UK, bars are opening for the first time this week.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci said earlier this week that bars are "really not good" places to be hanging out right now.
  • He's right: gathering indoors, where you get close to other people, shout to be heard, take off face coverings to drink, and (perhaps) loose a little inhibition along the way is a dangerous concoction that dramatically ups the odds of transmitting the coronavirus.
  • Drinking outside, at a safe (at least 3-foot) distance from friends and family, is a better idea.

Dr. Anthony Fauci is America's biggest party pooper these days.

On Tuesday, while testifying before a US Senate Committee, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases said that "congregation at a bar, inside, is bad news" for the coronavirus.

"Bars: really not good," Fauci said. "We really got to stop that right now."

Many states are doing just that.

From California, to Arizona, Florida, Colorado, and Texas, several US states that had previously allowed people to belly up at their local watering holes, after months of home isolation, are shutting their doors once again. The wave of new precautions comes in the wake of dozens, and in some cases hundreds of new coronavirus infections in cities and states around the country being tied back to local bars.


Meanwhile, bar-goers across the Atlantic Ocean are getting their first fresh sips of pub life, after more than three months away. In Ireland, bars re-opened on Monday, and across the UK, pubs are gearing up to pour pints just after the stroke of midnight, on what's being dubbed "Super Saturday."

Of course, it's a far less risky prospect to head to a bar if you know that there are no coronavirus cases circulating where you live. But how many Americans (or Brits, for that matter) can say that for certain right now?

Here are seven good reasons why science suggests that sipping a brew outside this weekend is a far better idea than bellying up to a bar indoors

Why bars are a breeding ground for the coronavirus, and you should always take your drink to-go
Customers pose for a photograph with their drinks outside the re-opened Murray's Bar in Dublin on June 29, 2020, as lockdown measures begin to ease.Paul Faith/AFP via Getty Images

1. The coronavirus thrives, survives, and moves quickly indoors

It doesn't matter whether you're at a church service, singing karaoke, gambling in a casino, drinking at a bar, working in an office, going to the gym for a workout, using an elevator, or celebrating at a house party — more and more evidence from around the world continues to suggest that being inside, for prolonged periods of time, with other people and their germs, is the best way to catch COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.

A study from China (which is still under review) found that among 318 coronavirus outbreaks in that country, only one occurred outside. The other 317 happened indoors. Another examination of COVID-19 cases in Japan (also under review) found that the odds of COVID-19 transmission in a closed, indoor environment were nearly 19 times higher than out in fresh air.


2. Singing, cheering, and speaking loudly all help the coronavirus spread well between people

A recent report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which studied coronavirus cases across Japan from January to April, found that many of that country's coronavirus clusters tended to sprout up when people did heavy breathing in close proximity, including "singing at karaoke parties, cheering at clubs, having conversations in bars, and exercising in gymnasiums."

Try ordering another beer without raising your voice, at least a little.

3. After a drink or two (or more), physical distancing and other forms of self-restraint might begin to disappear

A recent review of 172 studies showed that wearing a mask, and keeping at least three feet apart (or more!) are the very best ways to avoid catching the coronavirus from others. How possible, really, is it to adhere to those rules in a bar, while sipping drinks, and chatting with friends?

4. Summertime sunlight can kill off a lot of virus, but there's little to no sun in a bar

A recent study in the Journal of Infectious Diseases found that the coronavirus is "rapidly inactivated" by the sun. Using simulated sunlight and saliva in the lab, scientists recorded that the virus decayed by 90% after about 6 minutes in summer sun, and 19 minutes if it was late winter or early fall. Similarly, on a sunny, 80 degree Fahrenheit day, the US Department of Homeland Security estimates the virus decays by 90% in less than 9 minutes, and by 99% in just over 17.

5. Taking off a mask (which you need to do to drink) ups a person's risk of infection

"You see people at bars not wearing masks, not avoiding crowds, not paying attention to physical distancing," Fauci said during his recent Senate complaints.


But it doesn't have to be so.

"You can get outdoors, you can interact — wear a mask, try to avoid the close congregation of people, wash your hands often. But don't just make it all or none," Fauci added. "We've got to be able to get people to get out and enjoy themselves within the safe guidelines that we have."

You could wear a face shield, which you don't need to take off to drink, or just be prudent about when, where, and how you take off your mask, making sure to stay well out of spitting distance of your friends when you're drinking.

6. People who don't look or feel sick spread the virus best of all

Scientists are learning that people who show no symptoms of the coronavirus are just as good at spreading their illnesses to other people as those who do develop the dry cough, fever, shortness of breath, loss of smell, and other tell-tale signs of this virus.

What's more, people tend to spread the coronavirus best before they ever know they are sick, whether they're ultimately symptomatic or not, which means bars full of seemingly healthy patrons could be hotbeds for viral spread.


"You could be in the restaurant, feeling perfectly well, and start to get a fever," the World Health Organization's Executive Director of Health Emergencies Mike Ryan said during a recent Q&A. "You didn't think you'd need to stay home, but that's the moment at which your viral load could be actually quite high ... It's because the disease can spread at that moment that the disease is so contagious. That's why it's spread around the world in such an uncontained way."

7. Most bar workers don't have sick pay, making it harder to stay home if they get symptoms

After being closed for business for months, and stuck at home without money coming in to pay the bills, bar owners and wait staff alike are in a desperate situation.

They need business and cash — now — and most food service workers don't get sick days, either, which means even if they are sick, they can't stay home.

If you want to drink to support your local businesses, consider taking it to go, or enjoying it outside, at a socially-distanced spot. That way, you're protecting the workers, who will be in a very precarious situation if they get sick.