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NYC Restaurants Unlikely to Open Before Summer, New Guidance Suggests

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New York data shows the city ranks the worst of any region in the state for reopening criteria

A black and white photo of an empty restaurant, with several tables-of-four
A black and white photo of an empty restaurant
Gary He/Eater

As sit-down dining resumes in a handful of states — prematurely, some might argue — pandemic-battered New York City won’t reopen its restaurant economy before the summer at the earliest, new statements and data from local officials suggest.

Mayor Bill De Blasio said this morning that a ban on non-essential businesses and large gatherings would not end before June. Governor Andrew Cuomo didn’t specifically mention the city during his own press conference, though he displayed a slide showing that the metropolitan area was faring the worst of any region in terms of reopening criteria.

At least 14,753 people are confirmed to have died from the virus in New York City, with an additional 5,178 being classified as probable. That represents nearly a quarter of all U.S. fatalities from COVID-19, though local death and hospitalizations have been declining since April.

Cuomo established seven requirements for reopening last week, including a 14-day decline in hospital deaths, a drop in hospitalizations, and sufficient testing and contact tracing. The three regions meeting the criteria for an initial reopening on Friday, May 15, are the Finger Lakes (near Lake Ontario), the Mohawk Valley (in Central New York), and the Southern Tier (along the border with Pennsylvania).

The reopenings in those regions will start with so-called “phase 1” businesses, such as construction. White House and Centers for Disease Control guidelines somewhat aggressively put socially-distanced sit-down dining in phase 1, but in New York, that higher risk category of hospitality is considered phase 3.

As of this morning, New York City only met four of the seven criteria, the poorest rating among the state’s 10 regions.

Per a data monitoring tool that the governor’s office launched today, New York City death and overall hospitalization rates meet the published guidelines, but it lags in three key areas: the share of available hospital beds, the percentage of intensive care unit beds available, and new hospitalizations. That last metric is where the city falls particularly short; the state requires under two hospitalizations for every 100,000 residents, whereas the five boroughs currently exceed that limit, at well over three.

When asked how long regions would have to wait in between phases, Cuomo said that the process would be “calibrated locally,” and that it would be determined “by the facts and the numbers,” particularly the hospitalization and infection rates.

The legal requirements for being able to engage in sit-down dining notwithstanding, operators face a whole host of issues that could further delay reopenings, including the ability to operate at reduced capacity (a widely expected requirement), costs associated with purchasing protective gear, and the fact that many prospective patrons will remain out of town, working from home in the suburbs until the fall or later.

In California, which only suffered from a fraction of the COVID-19 deaths that New York did, Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to launch detailed guidelines on the return of sit-down dining tomorrow, May 11. New York officials have not given any indication that they are ready to release their own criteria.

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