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Gov. Cuomo On Why Indoor Dining Is Still Open in NYC

The state makes the decision on closing restaurants but local governments can move to close schools

Governor Andrew Cuomo tried to offer an explanation on restaurants staying open while schools close
Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

New York City’s decision to close schools starting Thursday while keeping indoor dining open prompted consternation among local elected officials and New Yorkers alike. Gov. Andrew Cuomo tried to offer some clarity during a press conference yesterday.

While state guidelines prompt schools to close when a region’s COVID-19 positivity rate crosses three percent on a seven-day rolling average, Cuomo has also left it up to local school districts to make calls on closures and remote-only learning. That’s exactly what happened Wednesday when the NYC schools chancellor Richard Carranza sent an email to parents informing them of the closure the following day.

As per state data, NYC hadn’t yet crossed the three percent mark as of Thursday, which could designate the entire city an orange zone. But the city’s data indicated it had crossed that positivity rate, prompting the schools shutdown on a local level. The fact that the city and state are using two different methodologies for tracking COVID-19 cases is part of what’s causing confusion as well.

The fate of restaurants, though, rests with the state. Aside from the fact that the state data hasn’t prompted an automatic orange zone designation yet, Cuomo indicated Thursday that businesses placed in an orange zone don’t have the option of testing out the way schools do.

In an orange zone, NYC would lose indoor dining, and would be limited to serving four people per table outdoors, along with continuing takeout and delivery. Schools in an orange zone, though, could technically reopen after a minimum four days of shutdown. But all students and staff would have to be tested before returning, and 25 percent of students and staff would have to get tested after that on a weekly basis.

Due to NYC’s population density, Cuomo has previously said that the city would have to develop a different testing metric to reopen schools in an orange zone considering the improbability of testing every single student and staffer.

Restaurants, bars, and other small businesses don’t have this test-out option, and that’s part of the reason the shutdown order hasn’t come through yet. “I do believe more targeted responses are better,” Cuomo said during his press conference Thursday.

Furthermore, NYC would not automatically go into an orange zone the minute the state positivity number reaches three percent. The seven-day rolling average has to hold at three percent or above for 10 consecutive days to prompt an orange zone designation. The state is also taking into account other metrics like the number of cases per 100,000 people on a seven-day average, and hospitalizations. A spokesperson for the governor wasn’t immediately able to provide data for the cases per 100,000 residents, but all of these factors combined would eventually prompt an orange zone designation.

Barring a dramatic rise in cases, the governor’s comment seem to track with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s prognosis that indoor dining could shut in the next week or so if cases keep rising at the current rate. On Friday, de Blasio said on the Brian Lehrer show that he expects NYC to be designated an orange zone in the first week of December.

As of Thursday, NYC’s positivity rate on a seven-day average was 2.5 percent per state data, and 3.1 percent per the city’s data. The statewide positivity rate was down slightly Thursday from 3.4 percent to 2.7 percent.

Still, many health experts have questioned the efficacy of closing schools while keeping indoor dining open. Restaurants and gyms are considered more likely venues for the spread of the virus than schools. Still with no federal aid in sight, restaurant industry experts predict that a wave of closings will follow if restaurants face more restrictions.