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Indoor Dining Is Fastest-Growing Source of COVID-19 Spread in New York, State Says

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget director Robert Mujica provided some insight into why indoor dining will likely be shutdown soon

A sign welcomes customers to indoor dining at a restaurant in Brooklyn on December 01, 2020 in New York City. 
Indoor dining is the fastest growing source of the spread of the virus, according to state data
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Following a growing backlash from hospitality groups about the impending ban on indoor dining, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s team offered up more information Wednesday on why an indoor dining shutdown is likely coming next week.

“It is the largest growing cluster,” Robert Mujica, the state’s budget director said during Cuomo’s press conference on Wednesday, referring to the spread of the virus through indoor dining. “As it gets colder and you move into indoor dining those numbers are growing faster than every other category.”

Mujica noted that indoor dining at restaurants and bars are currently the fifth or sixth highest category in the city for the spread of the virus, but he did not outline what the top categories pushing the city toward a full-blown second wave of the pandemic. Cuomo is set to release an overview of the data this week — possibly as soon as Friday, according to a spokesperson for the governor — which will likely outline in greater detail the percentage of COVID-19 cases citywide that can be traced back to indoor dining.

Cuomo reiterated the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s newest guidance issued last week, which recommends avoiding nonessential indoor spaces like restaurants and bars.

During a separate press conference on Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the “most identifiable piece of the puzzle” when it comes to the spread of COVID-19 has been travel, although bars and restaurants have also been sources for the virus escalating.

But nothing has fostered the increase of COVID-19 cases more than private family gatherings, according to de Blasio. “The main driver appears to be family settings,” de Blasio said. “Not so much being out in community settings. However, all of this interrelates and not all of it is perfectly traceable.”

Aside from noting activities like travel and private family gatherings as major COVID-19 spread contributors, the mayor has yet to disclose any in-depth data on how COVID-19 has spread in NYC.

In comparison, local governments in other areas of the country like Washington, D.C. have recently published detailed breakdowns of community outbreak origins. Restaurants and bars contributed to 13.8 percent of D.C.’s COVID-19 outbreaks from August 1 to November 26, according to city data. The industry tied with childcare and daycare as the third-largest source of community outbreaks behind K-12 schools and colleges.

Eater has reached out to NYC’s Health and Hospitals, which runs the city’s contact tracing program, for more information about the sources contributing to COVID-19 spiking in recent weeks.

Restaurant and bars owners, along with hospitality industry experts, have repeatedly warned that without federal aid — paired with an indoor dining ban and colder weather — there will be a large spike in the number of restaurant closings in the coming months.