Marco Rubio Doesn’t See ‘Any Evidence’ That Restaurants Are Driving Florida’s COVID Surge

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 10: Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee Chairman Marco Rubio (R-FL) presides over a hearing on June 10, 2020 in Washington, DC. The committee is examining the implementation of... WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 10: Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee Chairman Marco Rubio (R-FL) presides over a hearing on June 10, 2020 in Washington, DC. The committee is examining the implementation of the CARES Act, which has handed out billions of dollars of government-backed forgivable loans to small-business owners that keep employees on their payroll. (Photo by Al-Drago-Pool/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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July 13, 2020 12:16 p.m.
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Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) claimed Monday that there was no evidence that restaurants had contributed to Florida’s alarming surge in COVID-19 cases — despite CDC guidance that indoor dining poses a substantial risk of virus transmission.

In an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” the Florida senator instead blamed “people behaving like people” and gathering together in public spaces and at home.

“I don’t think there’s any evidence that the businesses we’re talking about closing are in any way driving the infection surge,” Rubio said, asked about Walt Disney World’s recent reopening in Florida.

“What happened, and is happening, is, people are going out — particularly younger people — and they’re getting together. They’re getting together in public spaces, but they’re getting together in each other’s homes,” Rubio said, cautioning that his claims were “anecdotal.”

Rubio granted that close, indoor contact with an infected person was likely to lead to the virus spreading. But he claimed in his next sentence that there was no evidence that restaurants had contributed to Florida’s dramatic spike. On Sunday, the state reported the new nationwide single-day record for newly confirmed COVID-19 cases: nearly 15,300. Forty-five new deaths from the disease were also announced Sunday in the Florida.

“I don’t think there’s any evidence that restaurants, or Disney World — which is an outdoor setting — or beaches, or parks are the cause of this surge,” Rubio said.

The senator’s office didn’t respond to TPM’s request for comment, but public health authorities have been vocal about the risks of indoor dining.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, a Republican, last week ordered that indoor dining would be prohibited amid the surge in Florida COVID-19 cases. But other jurisdictions in the state haven’t followed suit, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been reluctant to issue statewide orders to combat the virus — even resisting a state-wide mask requirement. Restaurants in Florida are allowed to operate indoors with limited capacity.

The CDC warns that indoor dining — even with reduced seating capacity — presents a higher risk of spread than outdoor dining, which itself is riskier than delivery- and takeout-only, or cooking at home.

In an April research note, Chinese scientists illustrated how the direction of a restaurant’s air conditioning unit may have infected restaurant diners sitting near an infected person.

And an analysis last month from JPMorgan, based on debit and credit card data, found that restaurant spending was the strongest predictor of a subsequent rise in new COVID-19 cases out of all categories of card spending.

In-person restaurant spending, analyst Jesse Edgerton said, was “particularly predictive.”

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COVID-19 Tracking Project (updated data on testing and infections in the U.S.).
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