Biostatistician, epidemiologist said state needs to treat restaurant workers like frontline workers | KOB 4
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Biostatistician, epidemiologist said state needs to treat restaurant workers like frontline workers

Grace Reader
Updated: October 11, 2020 10:53 PM
Created: October 11, 2020 10:43 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As COVID cases continue to rise in New Mexico, some local medical professionals said they think indoor dining could be the cause. In previous coverage, KOB 4 interviewed Dr. Jeff Salvon-Harman with Presbyterian Hospital. 

“Also within the indoor dining environments, that's probably the number one risk in my mind,” the doctor said.

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“There seems to be a pervasive sense that walking through the door of an indoor dining establishment is a safe zone and people immediately remove their mask because they'll be allowed to, because they'll be eating and drinking but in many cases, those same people will have their mask off before food or drink arrive and they'll be conversing,” he added.

Dr. Salvon-Harman's statement suprised local biostatistician and epidemiologist, Hubert Allen.

“I have a master's degree of biostatistics from Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health,” said Hubert Allen, a biostatistician. “The same people that are doing the national global statistics is where I got my degree in the department of biostatistics, then have spent 40 years as a practicing biostatistician epidemiologist.”

Allen was previously involved in the New Mexico Restaurant Association’s lawsuit against the state of New Mexico and the governor’s office where he was an expert witness. The case went all the way to State Supreme Court, where the Restaurant Association lost the lawsuit against the governor.

According to the lawsuit, Allen said they looked at numbers from that state’s rapid response data from May 14 to Aug. 15, which is nine weeks before the governor closed indoor dining to five weeks after she did.

In that data, Allen said around half of the rapid response callouts to restaurants were to national fast food chains. He also said that when the state shut down indoor dining the first time, those rapid responses to restaurants went up.

“Now, what this tells me about the epidemiology, is that closing indoor dining did not solve the problem of COVID-19 test positive cases in New Mexico restaurants. It did nothing. Zero. In fact, the cases went up,” Allen said.

The state’s rapid response data provides a good indication of outbreaks in the workplace, but in the case of indoor dining, it’s difficult to discern if the spread was from customer-to-customer.

Allen said restaurant workers should be treated as frontline workers and provided with an appropriate mask.

“I hope when our governor, who I support 100%, comes to speak to us next Thursday, instead of trying the same thing again, which we've demonstrated had no effect on the epidemic in restaurant workers, would say to people, ‘Let's treat our restaurant workers more like health care workers, and I'm going to get every one of you an N95 mask,’” Allen said.

As for the cost of those masks, Allen said the offset of being able to keep businesses open, and the economy running, would well outweigh the cost of buying some masks.

Allen hopes the governor and the state will dive a bit deeper into the data and look and see who the real offenders are: local shops or national fast food chains?

According to Allen, it’s the latter answer.

“Ask the national chains to take responsibility,” Allen said.


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