Post #737: Why did every state hate bars?

Posted on July 1, 2020

This bar can remain open.  Source:

Yesterday, the Governor decided that Virginia bars will remain closed during the initial part of Phase III of re-opening.  The law isn’t a blanket ban — some types of indoor bar areas remain open.  Just not those that could lead to the sort of mob scenes we’ve seen in other states.  Thus demonstrating, once again, that our state government seems to have pretty good sense.

This is, of course, in response to the spike in cases in FL, TX, AZ and to a lesser degree CA and other states.  The new cases have skewed heavily toward young adults, and the presumption is that socializing in bars is driving a lot of that.

I’m not quite sure how much direct evidence there is, that bars are the issue.  But beyond the younger age, there’s certainly a lot of circumstantial evidence.  Start from a short list of what you are NOT supposed to be doing (Japan’s Three Cs) …

Source: Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare.

… and then realize, that’s pretty much what bars are for.

Add in a lack of masks.  And toss with the fact that drinking liquids triples the production of droplets while talking, and that drinking sweet liquids vastly increases production of aerosols (droplets under 5 microns) while talking (see Post #723).  And it’s the aerosols that have been implicated in various “superspreader” events.  Leading to my conclusion that the fourth C should be “cocktails”.

Four Cs to avoid:  Closed spaces, crowded places, close-contact settings, and cocktails.  In short, avoid bars.

This should be contrasted with the massive spread of infection that so far as not occurred as a result of outdoor Black Lives Matter protest.  Those certainly had two of the three C’s, but so far I have read of only a handful of instances of COVID-19 being spread during those protests.  Thus validating epidemiology from both Japan and China suggesting that outdoor transmission of COVID-19 is rare.  (Though, to be clear, it’s definitely possible.)

But here’s the weird part.  After the fact, when all the young adults started showing up in the case counts, sure, now everybody knows that bars are a problem.  But, in fact, when states first published their re-opening strategies weeks to months ago, the one constant amidst all the variation is that they all hated bars.  In virtually every state, bars were among the very last places allowed to re-open.  Here’s Post #684, from almost two months ago:

Everybody hates bars, and I can’t quite figure out why.  Even the states that are opening up some limited forms of sit-down dining are still keeping bars shut.  It was just a strange point of consensus, given the variations that states adopted.

At the time the individual states were writing their guideline,s it was pretty well established that outdoor spaces were safer than indoor.  But there was nothing that I read that established bars as a major hazard.  There were only a handful of anecdotes.

In some sense, then, it’s merely a stroke of luck that bars were last on the list, and got treated the worst.  Else we’d already have opened them up fully here in Virginia.  And we might be going the way of Arizona.

But keeping them closed, now?  Luck has nothing to do with it.  That’s a result of having reasonably good state government.  And let’s thank the Governor for that.

Addendum:  You might reasonably ask, why not re-open bars and strictly enforce social distancing and mask wearing.  (Or, at least, I’ve been asking myself that.)  And I think the reasons for not doing that are largely practical.

First, in Virginia, enforcement of the state mask ordinance is via public health departments.  So, in theory, if there were enough public health officials around to cruse all the bars in Virginia, you might be able to have a strategy of shutting down those that did not comply.

But my guess is, there aren’t nearly enough public health department employees.  So I don’t think that enforcement via public health departments — as is written into the Virginia mask order — could deal with any widespread flouting of the law.

And then, think about the situation if you try to enforce this via the police. This, being mask wearing and social distancing in bars.  You’d be asking cops to break up large crowds of masked, drunken young people.  On a routine and ongoing basis.  If I were a cop, I wouldn’t want to be tasked with that.  And it’s not clear that we have enough cops even to be able to do that.  Particularly when the violation (masks use and social distancing) is kind of subjective in the first place.

In short, I think this is another case of mob rule.  Arguably, localities don’t have the on-the-ground ability to enforce COVID-19 rules in all the bars in Virginia.  And so, given the choice between letting the mob decide, and keeping  the bars shut so that mob can’t form, I think the Governor has taken the smarter option.