Grocery stores and universities to reopen first, new research finds

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The study, released Tuesday, also found that cafes, gymnasiums, sporting goods stores, bookstores, tobacco and liquor stores are expected to remain closed until later.

Researchers who took part in an initiative led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology did a cost-benefit analysis of 26 different types of places to determine what would be the trade-off between a person’s relative risk of being infected during a visit and the importance of this establishment in the life of this person. life and the economy.

They also used anonymous geo-location data from 47 million mobile phones to track where people went to the United States in February and March.

The risk level of a location was based in part on the number of social contacts a person would have in that location, the number of hours they would spend there, overcrowding, the number of visits they would make and the number of unique visitors they could meet.

The researchers also took into account visits by people 65 and older and the distance traveled to the location. They measured economic benefits using US census statistics and nationally representative consumer survey data.They found surprises.

“We find that the colleges offer a good compromise, but most have closed, resulting in a 61% drop in visits,” the researchers wrote in their report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Conversely, we find that liquor and tobacco stores are relatively poor compromises (due to their poor economic importance and small, busy stores), but the number of visits in this category has decreased by less than 5%. “

Some categories were easy – grocery stores had an obvious advantage and museums and cinemas were relatively unimportant.

“Hardware stores have seen the largest increase in visits, while individuals are looking for personal protective equipment and other household supplies,” the researchers noted.

“We find that banks, general merchandise stores (eg Walmart), dentists, grocery stores and colleges and universities may face relatively flexible restrictions. Gyms, sporting goods stores, liquor and tobacco stores, bookstores and cafes should be subject to relatively strict restrictions, “they concluded.

The authors said there was a limit to their analysis.

Many locations can make adjustments to limit contact. Most retailers can offer curbside pickup so people don’t have to go to stores. For gyms, on the other hand, it is more difficult because they emphasize physical contact and are places where the use of a mask is “unpleasant,” the researchers wrote.

Since many states have had to make reopening and closing decisions in the dark, the researchers said they hoped their work would help policymakers figure out how to reopen the economy safely this time.

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