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UB infectious diseases expert is surprised Cuomo didn't shut down indoor dining sooner

Posted at 9:24 PM, Nov 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-29 23:35:04-05

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — A leading infectious disease researcher at the University at Buffalo says he is surprised by the timing of Governor Andrew Cuomo's decision to shut down indoor dining in parts of Western New York.

"Frankly speaking, I'm surprised that Governor Cuomo waited so long to shut down indoor dining," said Dr. Russo in an interview with 7 Eyewitness News Anchor Ashley Rowe.

Cuomo announced on November 18th that most of Erie County would be moving into the State-designated Orange Zone, which orders restaurants and bars to close indoor dining. By that point, the rolling average infection rate was already above seven percent. The rate in the Orange Zone has hovered around that same percentage.

"There's actually significant body of data that demonstrates that there's an increase in risk of acquiring new coronavirus infections with indoor dining," said Dr. Russo.

The concern is that poor ventilation, combined with people taking off masks when seated, can create an atmosphere of increased risk, even if restaurants space out tables to minimize transmission.

"There's nothing magical about six feet, particularly in poorly ventilated spaces," said Dr. Russo, who has been working in the field of infectious diseases since the 1980s.

When comparing the transmission risk in restaurants, gyms and personal care services, Dr. Russo says nail and hair salons are subject to the weakest scientific evidence.

"I'm not aware of any studies that show there's an increased risk," said Dr. Russo.

Public health officials have repeatedly said that the challenge with personal care services is that employees and clients are in close contact with each other for a prolonged period of time. However, numerous salon owners were able to avoid any outbreaks or COVID cases inside their establishments.

"Although everyone's wearing masks, masks are imperfect," said Dr. Russo.

Meantime, Dr. Russo calls the data to support closing gyms and fitness studios "moderate," but less clear than indoor dining.

Dr. Russo acknowledges that data about gyms dates mostly back to the earlier days of the pandemic, but is still confident that the risks are higher than in other establishments.

"You know you're going to generate an increased number of respiratory secretions, and if mask usage isn't perfect and it's a poorly ventilated space, I'm quite concerned about that scenario as well," said Dr. Russo.