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Don Rogers: Need a fact to chew on it

 

Public health authorities across the country during the pandemic have advised against indoor dining and for at least taking big precautions if you simply must.

There are studies linking restaurants to the behaviors of urban dwellers most likely to catch the disease.

There are reports, lots, of outbreaks traced back to crowded restaurants and bars — in Sturgis following the motorcycle rally, throughout Austin, San Francisco, every major city. All around the world.



Los Angeles County determined by data in late 2020 that 4% of their COVID spread could be tracked to restaurants and bars. We reported last week on a state Public Health Department study showing restaurants across California have accounted for 7% of the spread.

What we don’t have are reports or other evidence of outbreaks at restaurants in Nevada County serving as major spreaders of the disease — not like Louisiana with 25% of that state’s spread at one point attributed directly to bars and restaurants, nor half the cases recorded in one late summer week in San Francisco.




Nevada County public health authorities have not identified restaurants here as prime spreaders, like social and family gatherings, like the assisted-living facilities during the big surge.

This is not say there hasn’t been any: Several restaurants have had employees test positive and closed temporarily. So have other workplaces, and at about similar rates, according to what local officials have reported periodically through the course of the pandemic.

No horror stories about clusters of sick patrons, however. Not yet anyway. Of course it could happen here. It may well have happened here. Only nothing like this has been reported, documented, shared with inquisitive journalists, expressed in meetings where such things are expressed. The opposite, actually.

And so, while we can say plenty about what studies and such tell us about the risk here of eating indoors, about the risk an increasing number of rogue restaurants took on during the purple tier, what we don’t get to say is they actually have been responsible for the spread, for keeping the county in the purple tier.

We also don’t get to demand proof that a damning assertion is not true. That’s not how this works.

RISK APPARENT

You run a higher risk of catching the disease dining indoors. That’s clear in the studies and reports and guidelines. That’s clear in the restrictions that limit restaurants, gyms, churches and other larger gathering places. Clear in lockdown orders worldwide. Clear from just thinking about it a hot minute.

People alarmed at the number of restaurants in Nevada County that opened indoor dining against the rules have contributed letters and columns expressing their dismay. And some, their fury.

No problem from an editing standpoint with all that. There is ample evidence that indoor dining is riskier than outside or takeout or at home.

The problem arises locally in that hard place between dismay and confirmed fact. It has to check out as so before we can say it is so.

So then, what to do with commentaries that go past what is strictly known? Not run them at all? Remove unproven, perhaps baseless references to local restaurants? Return to the source for rewriting? Edit to emphasize they are expressing an opinion rather than actual evidence? Write a note clarifying a point while letting the message stand in whole?

Our aim is to run everything we can while respecting factual standards in that inconvenient, mainstream way. But the facts do have to check out.

It’s not so different a dilemma than dealing with all the assertions that widespread fraud “stole” an election from the incumbent president. Same, anyway, in dealing with upside down demands about proving it’s not so. Just a different cast of outraged critics. There’s irony there. Political partisans at each pole might understand each other a little better.

THE STAKES

This leads to the problem we all have with what we want to be true.

It’s only human to pay more attention to evidence for what we want to believe and discount what doesn’t match our notions. This is a staple especially in commentary and other essays high and low. And we all know people whose enthusiasms carry them well beyond the evidence.So what do I want to be true? Whatever the data and counts show. Actually show. That’s the path to honest, rigorously fair conversations. You have to in fact have a steak to decide you don’t 
like the way it tastes.

Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at drogers@sierrasun.com or 530-477-4299.


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