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'We need to be able to alert people': CDH explains why they name bars when sending out public health warnings

So far, Central Health District has named 10 locations where people may have been exposed to COVID-19. Nine are bars, one was the bar area of a restaurant.

BOISE, Idaho — One of the reasons Ada County is now this week's COVID-19 hotspot could possibly be traced to the local bar scene.

Central District Health has listed the names of 10 bars - nine in Boise and one in Meridian - linked to possible COVID-19 exposure. CDH tells KTVB the bars were identified using contact tracing.

Health officials have said patrons, unknowingly infected with COVID-19, visited the bars over the last couple of weekends.

The six original bars named were all in Downtown Boise.

  • Amsterdam Lounge – 609 W. Main St., Boise
  • Cactus Bar – 517 W. Main St., Boise
  • Humpin' Hannah's – 621 Main St., Boise
  • Silly Birch – 507 W. Main St., Boise
  • StrangeLove – 100 S. 6th St., Boise
  • Tom Grainey's – 109 S. 6th St., Boise

On Tuesday, CDH identified four additional businesses where possible coronavirus exposures may have occurred:

  • Matador (downtown Boise) in the bar top only area. The exposure date was June 7 and anyone present should monitor for coronavirus symptoms through June 21.
  • Vista Bar in Boise. The exposure date was June 9 and anyone present should monitor for symptoms through June 23.
  • 9th Street Nook in Boise. The exposure date was June 10 and anyone present should monitor symptoms through June 24.
  • The Breakaway Cafe & Spirits in Meridian. The exposure date was June 13 and anyone present at the bar top area only should monitor for symptoms through June 27.

Jason Kovac owns both Tom Grainey’s and Silly Birch, two of the original six bars named by the health district. He sent KTVB a statement on how he feels about the bars being named:

“Central District Health cherry-picked a handful of bars to blame. The people who have recently tested positive could have contracted the virus from any restaurant, grocery store, rally, workplace, car ride, family dinner or social gathering,” he said. “For weeks people have been testing positive and no business or venue has been named until now. Why are we being singled out? This is a direct attack on 6th and Main.”

RELATED: Health officials warn about possible coronavirus exposure at four more bars in Boise and Meridian

Brandon Atkins, a program manager for CDH, said the health district isn’t directly attacking the bar owners.

“It’s not meant to call out individuals and say 'oh this place is a terrible place, don’t frequent their business,' that is absolutely not our message,” Atkins said.

Part of the reason the 10 bars were named by CDH is the type of activity that takes place in bars.

Generally, people are sitting or standing around in close proximity, talking, and laughing. Atkins also says most people are not wearing masks or socially distancing themselves from other people when out at the bars.

“When it’s a location that many many people are frequenting that proves to be a high-risk transmission area, we need to be able to alert people to that,” he said. “We're able to associate now over 40 cases to that original cluster.”

That original cluster started with just 10 cases. Five of those were confirmed and five were probable. They're able to link 40 cases to the original cluster through contact tracing. After someone tests positive for COVID-19, the health district calls them.

“We talk to them about where they've been, who they've been with and what time they were there and what kind of activities they were participating in, what kind of risk reduction methods they were using,” Atkins said.

After the individuals who visited downtown Boise tested positive for the coronavirus, they were called by the health district. It was during this process when the individuals mentioned they had all spent time in the six bars in downtown Boise. This is when the health district sent out the original notice naming the specific bars.

RELATED: Downtown Boise bar owners feel singled out after possible COVID-19 exposure

“We're not just going to be nebulous and say if you were somewhere around Meridian this last weekend, you might want to consider watching for signs and symptoms,” Atkins said. “We have to get more granular, we have to let people know there are specific locations that are higher risk.”

Atkins told KTVB it wouldn’t have been any different if the individuals who tested positive all said they were in the same church at the same time or in a gym. Because those are also considered high-risk transmission areas.

However, they will not name every single business the individual has frequented because they say the public health risk isn’t the same.

“We can’t just really call out every business and say this person was at every location listed below, please be mindful if you were there on this date, that becomes an exhaustive message,” Atkins said. “Again, we weren’t seeing that. You look at how we moved to this point and it didn’t start happening until we opened up those more social venues that now have created this boiler of infection.”

It's because of the social nature of bars, Atkins explained, that they are being named as opposed to, for example, grocery stores.

“If you're in a grocery store, I'm guessing you're not calling up 20 of your friends and say ‘hey I got to go pick up some groceries, you want to come out with me, and we'll hang out. We'll grab a couple of beers, we'll take a drink and go in and grocery shop and we'll laugh and maybe we'll talk about what we've been doing over the last couple weeks while we're grocery shopping.’" Atkins said. "Who does that?” 

CDH also isn’t publicly naming the workplaces for the individuals who tested positive. Atkins told KTVB that’s because there usually isn’t necessarily a public health risk as compared to them being out and about in a crowded bar.

“We don’t know what the risk is for those particular work environments either,” he said. “We don’t know if there are other cases that are spreading. We work with those locations.”

However, Atkins reiterated the virus doesn’t just disappear when someone goes grocery shopping and there is still a risk for transmission there as well.

“People have been contracting it in grocery stores for months because it’s been in our community,” he said.

One example in which a grocery store could be singled out specifically is if a cluster of cases all linked to it - such as if infected shoppers were huddled around the deli counter, and not wearing masks.

RELATED: North Idaho bar fined $2,500 for reopening early

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