July 22, 2020 / 11:30 AM / 20 days ago

U.S. virus surge in June preceded by May surge in Yelp entries for bars, restaurants

FILE PHOTO: People eat in outdoor seating outside a restaurant before the city starts phase two of reopening after the lockdown due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the Manhattan borough of New York City, U.S., June 21, 2020. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon -/File Photo

(Reuters) - The surge of U.S. coronavirus cases that began in June was preceded in May by a large jump in consumer interest in social activities like dining out and going to bars and gyms, website Yelp reported on Wednesday in an analysis of searches and reviews conducted on its platform.

Justin Norman, Yelp's VP of Data Science, said in states like Florida and South Carolina, which experienced high growth in coronavirus infections in June, consumer views of Web pages or posts of photos and reviews for bars, restaurants and gyms jumped more than 50% from the previous month. (here)

In New York and other northeastern states where the virus remained contained, consumer interest in those activities “remained more flat,” Yelp said in the latest tabulation of activity on its Web site, where users discuss and rate local businesses, particularly restaurants.

The analysis was not a rigorous study of the issue. But it suggested the raw correlation was potentially noteworthy — another bit of evidence to suggest that the effort to return to normal life in late May and early June, after two months of national lockdown, may have fueled infections.

“Correlation and causation are not equivalent,” Norman noted. But “increasing consumer interest... is a good general indicator of consumer behavior reverting to the norm and a state being more active economically and socially. This general reversion toward pre-pandemic consumer behavior in

the month of May could very plausibly result in a spike in COVID-19 cases in June.”

Like many Web sites that collect user information on a continual basis, Yelp has been using it to gain insight on the coronavirus.

As the economic reopening proceeds fitfully, with some states now restricting activity again as cases rise, what had been a steady decline the number of businesses shuttered either permanently or temporarily appears to have slowed, the company noted.

The number fell from 177,000 in mid-April to 140,000 in mid-June. As of mid-July, it was 132,500, with a rising share of about 55% apparently closed on a permanent basis.

Reporting by Howard Schneider; Editing by Dan Grebler

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