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Restaurant spending could predict spread of coronavirus, economist says

Gannett //June 29, 2020//

Restaurant spending could predict spread of coronavirus, economist says

Gannett //June 29, 2020//

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By Brett Molina
USA Today

Money spent in restaurants and supermarkets could offer insight into how fast or slow the coronavirus pandemic may spread.

According to a note from Jesse Edgerton, an economist with JPMorgan Chase, the level of spending in restaurants three weeks ago — most notably in-person versus online — was the strongest predictor of a surge in coronavirus cases during that time period.

Based on spending by 30 million Chase credit and debit cardholders, Edgerton found that higher spending in supermarkets predicted a slower spread of the virus, suggesting consumers are practicing “more careful social distancing in a state.”

“We recognize that the interplay among the many factors that could drive the spread of the virus could be quite complex, and the states now seeing rapid spreading share other characteristics beyond their restaurant spending,” Edgerton wrote in his note. “But we still find it useful to see these relationships between economic activity and subsequent spread of the virus.”

Edgerton notes that as of three weeks ago, supermarket spending was up 20% or more from a year ago in New York and New Jersey, where coronavirus cases have started to trend downward. By comparison, supermarket spending was up less than 10% in Texas and Arizona, where the number of cases has spiked.

In a statement obtained by USA Today in response to JPMorgan’s findings, the National Restaurant Association said it was “irresponsible” to blame the industry for the rise in cases.

“Restaurants have historically operated with highly regulated safety protocols based on the FDA’s Food Code and now have taken new steps to meet social distancing guidelines required by state and federal officials,” said the organization.

Many states have started to lift restrictions and allow for businesses to reopen in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 124,000 deaths in the United States.

Most businesses have reopened with restrictions aimed at encouraging patrons to wear masks and socially distance themselves.

But in half of U.S. states, the number of coronavirus cases has moved upward. On Friday, the U.S. hit a daily record of over 40,000 cases. The surge in cases has prompted a dozen states to halt reopening plans to stem the spread.

Follow Brett Molina on Twitter @brettmolina23.