CNBC hosts yell at each other over whether big-box stores are safer from COVID than restaurants

Some fine Friday palate-cleansing fare, perfectly indicative of the state of America’s COVID debate. Representing the pro-restaurant side: Populist Rick Santelli, who’s spoiling for a fight and isn’t changing his mind no matter what arguments or evidence you throw at him. Representing the anti-restaurant side: Liberal Andrew Ross Sorkin, who’s smug and self-assured in scolding Santelli on the science even though he does not, in fact, have any hard evidence to support his claims.

There are logical reasons to believe that a meal at a restaurant is riskier than window-shopping at Best Buy, though. For one:

Right, that’s always been the theory to explain occasional superspreader events at church services or choir practices. People are singing! They’re using their lungs and vocal cords to project their voices and, in so doing, any particles that happen to be incubating in their throats at the time. Talking quietly should be less of a risk but sustained conversation in close quarters during a meal that lasts an hour or more will obviously mean some viral shedding by a person who’s infected.

Another, simpler distinction: In a big-box store, you don’t need to take your mask off to do what you came there to do. In a restaurant, you do. And another: In a big-box store, you’re in motion most of the time you’re there, walking the aisles and browsing the merchandise. If there’s a concentration of viral particles in the air somewhere, odds are you’re not lingering in the middle of it. In a restaurant, you’re in one spot the entire time. If you happen to be located near a little corona cloud, uh oh.

The science is thin on restaurants as vectors of transmission, but since COVID has only existed for a year or so, the science is thin in every particular of the disease. There are studies that suggest a link, however, including this new one from Korea:

There was study done at a restaurant in China all the way back in January of this year that’s described in Tufekci’s longer post about this, in which one person infected 10 other diners — and again, the direction of the air flow was key. That doesn’t disprove Santelli’s point, of course. It could be that you’re equally at risk of infection in Best Buy or Lowe’s notwithstanding all of the points made above, especially if someone on the premises happens to be infected and is “upstream” of you in the building’s ventilation system. But if I had to take my chances at a big-box store or a restaurant, without question I’d choose the former. Keep the mask on, keep the talking to a minimum, and keep moving. Seems like a logical way to reduce the risk.

You’ll see at the end of the clip below that a third guy, Steve Liesman, jumps in to taunt Santelli by asking how his anti-lockdown approach is working out for him and the country right now. “It’s working out fine,” Santelli retorts. It is not working out fine, my dude:

Remember that the CDC estimates that for every known case of COVID, there are eight more that go undetected. If that’s true, there were upwards of two million new infections in the U.S. — just yesterday. That’s greater than the population of a dozen states.

In lieu of an exit question, read about the holiday parties being hosted by Mike Pompeo at the State Department this year. They’re being held indoors and offer lots of eating, drinking, and *loud* talking over ambient music. If you attend you may even get a little Christmas present to bring home with you. Guess what it is.

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