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Indoor Dining Starts Upstate on Friday, as Coronavirus Cases Spike Throughout U.S.

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that restaurants in five regions can reopen at 50 percent capacity

New York Governor Cuomo Holds Briefing At LaGuardia Airport
New York Governor Cuomo Holds Briefing At LaGuardia Airport
Photo by Scott Heins/Getty Images

New York’s reopening effort is about to enter its riskiest phase yet with the return of indoor dining, even as a resurgent wave of COVID-19 infections plagues other states.

Restaurants in five upstate regions — North Country, Mohawk Valley, Central New York, the Southern Tier, and the Finger Lakes — will be able to relaunch indoor dining on Friday, June 11, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced during his daily press conference today. Those venues must meet strict guidelines to reopen, including implementing social distancing measures and keeping dining rooms under 50 percent of regular capacity.

Cuomo is aware of the viral surge elsewhere, and he asked for caution, pointing out infection spikes in California, Texas, Florida, South Carolina, and Arizona. “You can make a mistake today that wipes out everything we’ve done,” he said, adding that “we are a more dense state and we have more crowding,” than more rural states.

Those comparisons are complicated in their own right. Key metrics like hospitalizations and deaths have largely dropped in New York since the reopenings began, a fact that Cuomo repeated today. He attributed the state’s improving public health situation to a relatively slow and data-dependent phasing-in process, where regions must meet and maintain strict health-based criteria to relaunch businesses.

Texas, by contrast, hit record hospitalizations for COVID-19 for three days in a row, the Texas Tribune reports, as that state, the country’s second most-populous, prepares to increase restaurant capacity to 75 percent on Friday.

New York hasn’t indicated when bars and restaurants will be able to move past 50 percent capacity.

The Empire state’s slow phasing-in process notwithstanding, the switch from outdoor dining to indoor dining will be unusually quick for certain regions. Generally speaking, at least two weeks need to lapse in between any given phase, but outdoor dining was a late addition to phase two reopenings. Accordingly, only eight days will have passed in between indoor dining and the debut of al fresco dining, which is probably safer.

New York adopted the two week intervals in hopes of more accurately assessing the impact of virus spread after a series of reopenings. It can take up to fourteen days for those with the novel coronavirus to show symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control, but Rebecca Fischer, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Texas A&M University, tells the Texas Tribune that it can take anywhere from nine to 16 days to see increased infections, with another five to seven days to see a rise in hospitalizations,

New York has not yet delayed the onset of a new phase, and hasn’t seen dramatic spikes in infection rates from the reopenings. But what sets downstate regions like New York City, Long Island, and Westchester apart is that they have higher population densities and are closer to major domestic and international airports.

Long Island, whose residents often commute to New York City, endured some of country’s highest COVID-19 rates, with over 80,000 confirmed cases and 4,200 deaths so far.

Indoor dining could begin in Westchester on June 23 and on Long Island on June 24. Outdoor dining won’t begin in New York City until later in June, with indoor dining not expected to come online until sometime in July.

Cuomo also said today that it’s not yet clear what the effect of the anti-police violence demonstrations will be on infection rates. Nationwide protests erupted over two weeks ago after the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer focused the country’s attention on a long history law enforcement brutality, largely committed against the black and brown communities.

The governor has asked protestors to get tested but said that “may not show up for a couple of weeks.”

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