Following a month-long rise in COVID-19 cases in New York City, Gov. Andrew Cuomo moved to shut down indoor dining indefinitely starting on Monday, dealing a major blow to the NYC hospitality industry as it goes into the winter months. Cuomo indicated the shutdown was coming last week due to a rise in hospitalizations, and on Friday, he confirmed that hospitalizations had continued to climb this past week prompting the shutdown.
Restaurant owners have been bracing for the decision for some time now with the steady rise of cases both in the city and across the country. So far, Cuomo had been closing different parts of the city based on clusters of cases with restaurants facing restrictions in Washington Heights, Mott Haven, and large parts of Queens and the Bronx. The latest, though, is the first citywide shutdown measure to go into place since March, when the first COVID-19-related restrictions were introduced. Last month, Cuomo had limited restaurants citywide to to takeout and delivery after 10 p.m. Restaurants can still continue outdoor dining, takeout, and delivery.
Cuomo also said Friday that the commercial eviction moratorium would be extended but didn’t specify until when, but urged the federal government to approve federal aid to help restaurants and bars stay afloat. Eater has reached out for more details on the moratorium.
Many in the restaurant industry reacted with consternation as the announcement followed the release of new data that showed that restaurants and bars accounted for 1.4 percent of the spread of the virus in the state, a relatively low number compared to private gatherings and colleges.
“Shutting down indoor dining in New York City makes little sense based on the state’s own numbers, and to make matters worse, we are offered no plan for survival to get through this shutdown,” said Melissa Fleischut, the CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association, in a statement. “Today’s news will do nothing more than incentivize more unregulated indoor household gatherings, which have accounted for a whopping 73.84 percent of exposures.”
It’s been been a little over two months since indoor dining reopened in NYC at 25 percent capacity. While other parts of the state were able to reopen at half capacity, NYC has been limited to 25 percent, and did not see an increase to half capacity in November — as Cuomo initially indicated — due to the uptick in the spread of the virus.
During a separate press conference on Friday, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio said that he would support Cuomo’s decision to implement new restrictions “100 percent.”
“I feel tremendous empathy for restaurant owners,” de Blasio said. “We want them to survive, we need them to survive. [...] But at the same time, these numbers don’t lie.” The city’s three indicators by which it monitors the spread of COVID-19, including hospitalization rates and positive test numbers, all passed their safety thresholds for the first time on December 11. “That’s a second wave,” de Blasio said.
Many restaurant owners have repeatedly warned that without expanded indoor dining, many more closings might be on the way in the coming months. The New York Restaurant Association and the New York City Hospitality Alliance had already denounced this latest shutdown measure saying the city’s restaurants have been unfairly targeted while restaurants elsewhere in the state are still allowed indoor dining.
While restaurants are now allowed to have propane and electric heaters outdoors, many are concerned that won’t be enough to combat the cold weather for diners eating outside, and many have been struggling to install propane heaters due to stringent guidelines set by the city’s fire department.
A raft of enclosed outdoor dining structures that have propped up in response to the colder weather also have health experts worried that they could potentially lead to the spread of the virus. According to city guidelines though, fully enclosed outdoor areas have to abide by the same indoor dining restrictions, so these spaces will likely become unusable now without changes from restaurant owners.
Even with the combination of indoor and outdoor dining, restaurants have continued to struggle to pay fixed costs like rent. A recent survey conducted by the NYC Hospitality Alliance revealed that nearly 90 percent of restaurants had been unable to pay full rent in October. Congress is now close to passing a new COVID-19-related stimulus bill, but its not yet clear how this will help restaurants.
Since the start of the pandemic, thousands of restaurants have permanently closed due to the downturn in business. In recent weeks, restaurants have had to face a host of new restrictions nationwide due to an increase in cases. In California, both San Francisco and Los Angeles have shutdown indoor and outdoor dining due to the coronavirus spike.