Restaurants will respond to the pandemic as they already have—by cobbling together a variety of businesses, including delivery and curbside pickup, and selling specialty groceries. Even so, their outlook is dire. Colicchio told me that more than half of American restaurants may not reopen. “In my case, for at least two of my restaurants, most of the business comes through private parties and conferences,” he said. “For the foreseeable future, that’s gone.”
3. COVID-PROOF PUBLIC ENTERTAINMENT
On the evening of Tuesday, March 10, 61 singers gathered for choir practice just north of Seattle. It was a standard rehearsal, as members sang in close quarters, shared snacks, and stacked chairs together at the end of the two-and-a-half-hour session.
Five days later, the choir director sent an urgent email to the group. Several members had developed fevers, she said. The following Tuesday’s rehearsal was canceled. But by then, it was too late. Fifty-three of the 61 singers became ill, making for an “attack rate” of 87 percent. Three members of the choir were hospitalized. Two died.
The Washington choir represents the most aggressive outbreak I have come across, with an attack rate almost twice as high as the Korean call center. It had many features we’ve already established to be dangerous: an intimate crowd gathered in a small room, sharing air, food, and surfaces. But what if singing accelerated the transmission of the disease?
Read: How the pandemic will end
In a study subsequently published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report,” researchers emphasized that “the act of singing, itself,” might have contributed to transmission, because choir members were belting out more of the virus. Some people—known as “superemitters”—release more particles into the air when they speak, because they are unusually loud or slobbery talkers. But even normal gabbers can release an exceptional number of droplets if they’re singing or theatrically projecting their voice.
Many super-spreader events have been ceremonies that involve group prayers and exclamations, such as religious gatherings. On February 16, a 61-year-old Korean woman with COVID-19 triggered hundreds of infections when she prayed with 1,000 worshippers in a large windowless church in Daegu, South Korea. (To this day, more than 60 percent of Korea’s COVID-19 cases are in Daegu.) Two days later, in France, several hundred Christian worshippers from around the world packed into a dark auditorium in the small town of Mulhouse for an annual festival. French authorities have since linked more than 2,000 global cases to this one meeting, including cases in French Guyana, Corsica, Burkina Faso, and Switzerland.
These stories, combined with the science of large-droplet and airborne transmission, suggest that social distancing isn’t enough: We need saliva control too. Other countries are doing so, already. Germany has reportedly banned singing at religious services, and South Korea has prohibited spitting in its professional baseball league.