Eric A. Schiff 0000-0002-4104-7038


Restaurants and bars are places where airborne diseases like COVID-19 are easily transmitted from one patron to another. To reduce the number of infections during the pandemic, public health authorities have often shuttered them. When re-opening is allowed, restaurants and bars are known to add significantly to new infections.

To moderate the number of infections from bars and restaurants, health authorities are experimenting with reducing their capacity limits. We have made calculations of these limits based on the principle of limiting COVID- 19 cases from restaurants and bars to a specific, low rate. The calculations are based on the daily rate of new infections in a county. They use the corresponding risk categories developed by the New York Times and Johns Hopkins University. As shown in the graphic below, in one scenario officials would reduce capacity to 50% when the county moves from the medium to the high-risk category. If the very-high-risk category is reached, restaurants would be limited to 25% capacity. With these specific capacity reductions, the number of restaurant and bar- related COVID-19 cases will be similar in all three categories. Without them, the number of cases rises sixteen times before the extremely-high-risk risk level is reached.

The full article also describes a more aggressive scenario and a less aggressive one. It outlines how capacities could be increased for facilities with superior indoor ventilation systems. This could encourage restaurateurs and bar owners to improve the systems. Finally, it provides details of the calculations and discusses the underlying assumptions.

Document Type

Research Brief


Public Health Education and Promotion





Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.



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