The hope is that limiting bar and pub hours will mean less time for people to congregate together.
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Everything we know about coronavirus would seem to indicate that bars are problematic. “Bars: really not good, really not good,” the famed Dr. Anthony Fauci said in June. “Congregation at a bar, inside, is bad news.” Beyond being indoors, bars are also inherently social and often tightly-packed with mask-less patrons projecting loudly (read: unleashing spittle) to be heard over the noise. And then as you add intoxication into the mix, things can become increasingly chaotic. But could you potentially reduce the time people spend congregated together, and their level of intoxication, by forcing bars to close earlier? It’s something many parts of the U.S. are now trying.

crowded bar, boston, ma
Credit: John Coletti/Getty Images

While COVID-19 spikes have led some states to close down bars again entirely, other areas are offering a bit of a compromise: moving last call to earlier in the evening. On Friday, CNBC reported that Colorado, Mississippi, Rhode Island, and the Carolinas have taken this approach, as well as some smaller regions like St. Louis County and Hampton Roads, Virginia. Ohio ended July with a new 10 p.m. last call rule as well. And Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear announced a new 10 p.m. last call for his state yesterday.

“If we don't [attempt to safely reopen bars], people are pushed towards more house parties that we've seen in other states where no rules are followed,” Beshear said according to LEX 18. “Our goal is to have a right structure of rules where people can have that outlet if they're looking for it, but to do it in a safe place and to do it in a safe manner.”

And Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo hoped this “middle of the road” approach would help bar owners and staff, too. “Right now, the problem that I worry more about is having to close restaurants and bars,” she said last week according to the Cranston Herald. “We have been bending over backwards to keep the bars open.”

But what CNBC wondered is to what extent this compromise really helps anyone? People are still congregating (many areas consider someone a “contact” after an infected person has been with them for just 15 minutes) and the tightened timeframe could actually increase crowding. Meanwhile, bars lose out on some of the most lucrative hours of their day. “If people are seated and have a server with a mask deliver their food and their alcohol, I don’t think the beer is less safe at 10:59 than it is at 11 or 11:01,” Ty Thames, a bar owner in Mississippi, told the site. “It’s the precautions that you take that really makes a difference.”

Even with precautions, America is facing a crisis of consistency: Last week, it was reported that contact tracers in Oregon weren't even asking whether COVID-positive patients has been to any bars or restaurants anyway.