Denis Slattery New York Daily News
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Indoor dining was shut down again in the city in early December however there may be new hope for restaurant owners.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo will pitch a plan by the end of the week that could bring indoor dining back to New York City as he begins lifting COVID-19 restrictions across the state.
The governor, who said just two days ago that he was “not contemplating” reversing the current ban on serving customers inside, said Wednesday he will discuss the issue with health officials, lawmakers and business owners.
“I fully understand how difficult it is that they’re closed, not just for the restaurants but all the people who are employed there,” he said during a briefing in Albany. “On the flip side is how fast this virus can take off. But we’ll have a plan by the end of the week.”
Cuomo has faced growing pressure over the issue as several other major cities have allowed eateries to welcome diners back in recent weeks, including Chicago and Philadelphia.
Indoor dining was shut down in the city in early December as the state saw a resurgence of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
Restaurant owners have balked at the restrictions, arguing in statements and lawsuits that the state’s own data showed private gatherings were more likely to spread COVID-19 than eating out.
The governor said Wednesday that it appears as if the “holiday surge is over” as hospitalizations level off and the state’s overall positivity rate dropped in recent days.
While only 5.44% out of 202,661 tests reported to the state Tuesday came back positive for the virus and net hospitalizations fell by 60 to 8,771, another 170 New Yorkers died of COVID-19, the governor said.
The state is likely to only allow restaurants to seat at 25% capacity, which was the limit during the two-month reprieve from the all-out ban last year.
While eateries upstate are capped at 50%, Cuomo said he’s not ready to lift a 10 p.m. curfew that applies statewide, arguing that late-night revelry could become a problem.
“That is something we’re looking at, but not at this time,” he said. “When you keep the restaurants open late that tends to be more problematic, tends to be more crowded, tends to be more drinking.”
Still, the possibility of indoor dining returning to the city could be a boon for struggling restaurants, said Andrew Rigie, the executive director for the NYC Hospitality Alliance.
“We’re happy that Governor Cuomo heard the voice of New York City’s decimated restaurant industry and we look forward to working toward a plan that hopefully reopens indoor dining soon,” he said. “As the Governor acknowledged, it’s paramount these decisions are based on data. And, because New York City has lower infection and hospitalization rates than nearly all counties in the rest of the state where indoor dining is open at 50% occupancy, our city’s restaurants must be treated equitably and reopened safely.”
Cuomo also announced that the state is also lifting most color-coded microcluster zone designations, including those on Staten Island, that have limited schools, businesses and gatherings in areas with high infection rates.
Five yellow zones, the least restrictive designation, will remain with two in the Bronx, which the governor warned is still seeing infections at a greater rate than the rest of the city, one each in northern Manhattan and Queens, and one in Newburgh.
Instead of basing hot spots on the number of infections, the state is relying on a hospital capacity threshold of 15% bed availability and staff availability to decide whether to impose restrictions on a given region.
At the moment, the city is at 31% availability, well above the threshold. The governor has focused on the state’s economic recovery from the pandemic in recent weeks, using his State of the State address to outline plans to revitalize the arts, tourism and other revenue-generating industries in the Empire State.
During an appearance on MSNBC earlier Wednesday, the governor touted a pop-up art project set to start next month and said the city just wouldn’t be the same without its culinary and cultural offerings.
“If you take away from New York City, restaurants, arts, what’s the point of New York City?” he said. “The cities survive because of the density and synergy with culture and arts.”
The governor also praised President Joe Biden’s plan to increase vaccine allocations to states by 16% starting this week, but said more is needed to keep up with demand and to immunize New Yorkers in a timely fashion.
Cuomo said while the state has the capability to inoculate millions if the number of doses being sent increased, he doesn’t see that happening anytime soon.
“We could do literally millions and millions of doses in a month,” he said. “We will never get that level of supply because the federal government won’t get that level of production.”
One potential hiccup that may hamper plans to kick start the economy and expand vaccinations could be new strains of COVID-19 that are increasingly being found in the state.
“All I can tell you is, we watch and we adapt,” Cuomo said. “If the facts change, I have no problem looking the people of this state in the eye and saying the facts changed, our plan has to change.” ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.