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Restaurant spending could predict spread, says economist


Dr. Rajiv Bahl, an emergency medicine physician in Orlando Florida said that they are seeing an uptick in coronavirus patients in Central Florida hospitals. (June 26)

AP Domestic

Money spent inside 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 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,” wrote Edgerton in his note. “But we still find it useful to see these relationships between economic activity and subsequent spread of the virus.”

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Edgerton notes as of three weeks ago, supermarket spending was up 20% or more 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.

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 U.S. 

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

However, in half of U.S. states, the number of coronavirus cases has moved upward. On Thursday, the U.S. hit a daily record of 39,972 cases. The surge in cases has prompted states including Texas to halt reopening plans to stem the spread.

Follow Brett Molina on Twitter: @brettmolina23.

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