NYC Will Reopen Indoor Dining at 25% Capacity on Feb. 14

New York City’s teetering restaurants can reopen indoor dining at 25% capacity on Feb. 14, or Valentine’s Day, Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

The city’s daily rate of positive Covid-19 tests was 4.6% on Jan. 28, down from as high as 8.4% at the start of the month, state data show. All predictive models suggest improvement will continue, Cuomo said Friday at a virus press briefing.

Cuomo had closed indoor dining in the most populous U.S. city on Dec. 12, after cases surged with colder weather and holidays increasing social gatherings. Restaurants have struggled to stay in business with just takeout, delivery and outdoor dining amid the dead of winter. The governor’s 25% move isn’t enough, restaurateurs and industry groups said.

“The situation in NYC is dire and 25% is not going to cut it,” said Jeffrey Bank, chief executive officer of Alicart Restaurant Group, which includes Carmine’s and Virgil’s BBQ in New York City. “It’s like applying a band-aid to a gunshot wound or going to CityMD for open-heart surgery.”

Bank said he and other restaurant owners were frustrated by constantly changing rules that differ by location. “We are confused as to why in the rest of New York state many areas with higher infections rates have 50% indoor dining?” he said.

Two Weeks

The industry wants Cuomo to take greater steps at relieving the economic problems of the city’s restaurants and bars, where 140,000 jobs have been lost in the city, said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, an industry association. He said the rules are being applied inequitably against the city compared with the rest of the state.

“Restaurants are brokenhearted that they need to wait two weeks until Valentine’s Day to open at only 25% occupancy in the city, while permitting 50% occupancy in dining rooms around the rest of the state where infections and hospitalization rates from COVID-19 are higher,” Rigie said. “Restaurants in the city are ready to safely open now.”

Andrew Carmellini, co-owner of NoHo Hospitality, whose restaurants include Locanda Verde and the Dutch, called Cuomo’s decision “a joke.” He said, “you can go to New Jersey and Suffolk County and restaurants are full at 50% and have been all winter. Home Depot is packed. The folly of government has been on full display here.”

Cuomo, in response to restaurateurs’ criticism, said the state will ease restrictions if numbers continue to improve. “Look, 25% is better than zero, and that’s where we are now,” he said.

Surge Ends

Earlier this week, Cuomo said the state would begin to loosen restrictions amid an end of the post-holiday surge in Covid-19 cases. He allowed elective surgeries to resume in Erie County, lifted gathering restrictions in most hot spots across the state, and promised to announce a plan for New York City’s dining industry this week.

Reopening restaurants come under the purview of New York state, but New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he supported Cuomo’s decision. He said he understood the hesitation and health risks around opening up the city’s restaurants, but that the state was also trying to consider the health of the city’s economy.

“We’re in an uncertain situation because of the new variants, because we don’t yet have the supply of the vaccine we should, but I also know that folks are trying to make a livelihood, to save their businesses,” de Blasio said in a Friday briefing. “The whole idea here is to strike the right balance.”

In his State of the City address this week, Mayor de Blasio vowed to “bring our city back” as he outlined a recovery plan that hinges on vaccinating its more than 8 million residents amid a national vaccine shortage. He pledged to get workers back into offices, students in classrooms and 5 million people inoculated by the end of June. New York City has recovered about a third of the 900,000 jobs it lost after the pandemic hit.

Gradual Open

Covid rates remain well-above public health thresholds, but the seven-day average of new cases was 4,639, dropping below 5,000 for the first time this week.

While cases are expected to continue to go down, that could change, Cuomo warned. Other strains of the virus are a threat, he said.

“If there are facts and the facts change then we will have a different situation,” he said.

The state is also lifting restrictions for wedding receptions. Starting March 15, the celebrations can have 50% capacity, as many as 150 people, provided it’s approved by the local health department and all patrons are tested, Cuomo said. The state is working on developing more capacity for rapid testing, he said.

Of 270,518 Covid-19 tests conducted statewide on Thursday, 12,579 or 4.65% were positive, the lowest since Dec. 11, Cuomo said. There were 151 fatalities. Hospitalizations declined by 163 to 8,357.

The state’s vaccinations are “going very, very well,” with more than 1.7 million shots administered, Cuomo said. Cuomo said the state has used all of its allocation for weeks 1 through 6, he said. The state is starting to receive another 250,000 doses for next week, he said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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