We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

A large number of D.C. residents who got COVID-19 in early October went to a restaurant or bar just before experiencing symptoms and testing positive. But it’s unclear whether they ate indoors or outdoors, because DC Health does not ask when they are investigating cases.  

Of the 374 people who got sick and tested positive between Oct. 2 and 8, nearly 21 percent told contact tracers they went to a restaurant or bar in the two weeks prior. Others also reported socializing in groups of five or more, working, and traveling. The data shows correlation but not causation because it’s possible for transmission to have occurred elsewhere.

“Clusters [of cases] provide a better idea that transmission occurred in that environment,” said Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt on a call with councilmembers.       

On the call, At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman pressed Nesbitt from the D.C. Department of Health on why contract-tracing interviewers don’t ask people who have tested positive for COVID-19 whether they dined inside or outside at a restaurant. They only query whether someone has had a meal on-premises at an establishment.

“Why wouldn’t we want to know whether the person dined indoors or outdoors?” Silverman says. “Restaurants could say, ‘Why are people concerned about dining indoors when there’s no difference in what we’re seeing in what interviewees report.’ If there’s a big difference, we would want to discourage indoor dining.” 

Even a restaurateur sees the potential benefit of differentiating between the two. “It would be helpful to have that extra bit of information from the authorities, because we are all actively learning about best practices together,” says Daniel Kramer, managing partner at Duke’s Grocery, Duke’s Counter, and Gogi Yogi. “The main thing is for everyone involved, from guests to staff to government agencies, to be safe, smart, and transparent because the only way we get through this thing is together.” 

Kramer says he’s doing his part by collecting contract tracing information from all diners. For those seated indoors, he takes it one step further by taking temperatures. 

In response to Silverman’s questioning, Nesbitt offers: “Fair question, but we in public health do our work through case studies. We have clear case study information that makes public health science very clear about indoor versus outdoor. I don’t need to collect at a granular level whether or not someone went to a restaurant and dined indoors or outdoors.”

Contact tracers do ask people who attended social gatherings just before getting sick whether they were indoors and outdoors. There is more ambiguity with these types of gatherings within the science community, says Nesbitt. She adds that contact tracers are also looking for information that might help officials with public health management. 

George Washington University epidemiologist Dr. Amanda Castel says having contact tracers ask someone whether they ate indoors or outdoors could provide potentially useful information for officials. What the contact tracing data does tell us so far is that dining—be it indoors or outdoors—is risky. “Your mask is down. You are eating and talking,” she says. 

The October data also suggests that the virus is still circulating around D.C. While a large percentage of people who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month reported dining, socializing, traveling, or working before getting sick, nearly 50 percent of people reported other activities like going to church or the gym.

“The take home message is we still have community spread and still need to remain vigilant,” says Castel. “All our behavior is really critical now because we have to minimize transmission.” 

Castel says D.C. is not where we should be as we enter the winter months, when cases are expected to rise even further. The daily case rate has been hovering around eight cases per 100,000 people for over a week, which suggests moderate community spread, according to the city’s dashboard. Everyone should be wary of this as they weigh whether to go out to eat, or engage in any risky activities, Castel says. “It’s difficult. We are all human … Whatever people decide to do, it is really important that they don’t let their guard down. We are not over this … Continue to wear your mask.”   

—Amanda Michelle Gomez and Laura Hayes (tips? tips@washingtoncitypaper.com)

  • As of Oct. 16, D.C. reported three additional deaths related to COVID-19 and 89 new positive cases, bringing the total numbers of people to 641 and 16,255 respectively. [EOM]
  • D.C. continues to sweep encampments during the pandemic, despite the CDC advising against the practice. [DCist
  • 730DC asked readers why they left D.C. during the public health emergency. [730DC]

By Amanda Michelle Gomez (tips? agomez@washingtoncitypaper.com

Ed Lazere is Well Positioned for Election to the D.C. Council. But Will Critics Stop His Ascent?

At Monroe Street Market, the specter of the tipped minimum wage haunts Ed Lazere.  On […]

Greenleaf Gardens Redevelopment Stalls Early With Failed Resolution

The D.C. Housing Authority Board of Commissioners rejected a resolution that would have authorized Director […]

  • Evictions continue in D.C. despite local and federal moratoriums. [DCist]
  • The Council’s shift to the left is on the ballot. [Post]
  • Here is 730 DC’s election guide. [730]
  • ICYMI: here’s City Paper’s guide to the at-large Council race. [WCP]
  • D.C. officials and the teachers union can’t agree on school reopening plans. [Post]

By Mitch Ryals (tips? mryals@washingtoncitypaper.com)

It’s Always Oktoberfest at Prost DC, Opening Oct. 22 in Mount Vernon Triangle

Even the burger has a German tilt to it at Prost DC, opening on 5th […]

Bar Co-Owned by Guy Trying to ‘Set Gold Standard’ For Safe Reopening Fined

Casta’s Rum Bar is among the latest hospitality businesses to receive a $1,000 citation for […]

  • ICYMI: Uighur restaurateurs in the D.C. region cook traditional dishes while raising awareness about the atrocities in their homeland. [WCP]
  • CHIKO is headed for Bethesda. [Washingtonian]
  • Three D.C. bartenders using their skills to further social justice in the hospitality industry. [Eater DC]

By Laura Hayes (tips? lhayes@washingtoncitypaper.com)

The Smithsonian Craft Show Virtually Convenes More Than 100 Artists

The Smithsonian Craft Show is a prestigious event in the arts. More than 100 artists […]

  • How local families are getting imaginative for Halloween this year. [DCist
  • McLean’s Alden Theatre continues its Drive-Thru Drama performances today with Objects in Mirror May Be SPOOKIER Than They Appear. [DC Metro Theater Arts]

By Kayla Randall (tips? krandall@washingtoncitypaper.com)

Capitals Fans Should Be Excited About Henrik Lundqvist

Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is coming to D.C. on a one-year, $1.5 million deal. On Oct. […]

  • Michael A. Taylor will no longer be with the Nats after he cleared waivers and elected to be a free agent. [MASN]
  • The Washington Football Team has played extremely poorly through five games of the season, but the rest of the NFC East doesn’t look much better. In fact, the division is so historically bad that Washington, which plays three straight division games, starting with the New York Giants this Sunday, still has a chance to win the NFC East. [FiveThirtyEight]
  • The NCAA has voted to give all winter athletes in Division I sports an additional year of eligibility and temporarily lifted the rule that states that football teams need a .500 record or better to qualify for bowl games. [ESPN]

By Kelyn Soong (tips? ksoong@washingtoncitypaper.com)

City Lights: Basketball County Says Prince George’s Has Something In the Water

Tough. Gritty. Second to none. The mecca. Those are just some of the words used […]

By Emma Sarappo (tips? esarappo@washingtoncitypaper.com)