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Cuomo Threatens to Shut Down NYC Again After Crowds Swell Outside Manhattan Restaurants

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But the mayor’s office says “imprisoning people” is not the answer

People drink outdoor at bars and restaurants in the Hells Kitchen neighborhood of New York on June 7, 2020
People eating and drinking outside in Hell’s Kitchen
Photo by BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP via Getty Images
Erika Adams is the editor of Eater Boston.

After another weekend of crowds pouring into the streets across the city to eat and drink outside, seemingly in egregious violation of current social distancing measures, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday threatened to send Manhattan and the Hamptons back into lockdown.

The social distancing violations are “rampant, and there’s not enough enforcement,” Cuomo said in a Sunday press conference, according to the New York Post. The state has received over 25,000 complaints of health-safety violations since the beginning of the pandemic, and Manhattan and the Hamptons have racked up the highest number of complaints in that time frame.

Cuomo threatened that if “the local governments aren’t monitoring, policing, doing the compliance, then yes, there is a very real possibility that we would roll back the reopenings in those areas.” Long Island is currently in phase two of the state’s reopening plan, which allows for outdoor dining in areas including the Hamptons, while NYC entered into phase one of reopening on June 8. In phase one, restaurants and bars are still restricted to only offering takeout and delivery, but many shops in the city have pulled out patio furniture early.

“Enforce the law or there will be state action,” the governor tweeted on Sunday.

The crowds forming outside restaurants and bars in the midst of warm, summer weather have been well-documented, but the violations were particularly shocking this weekend. In one instance, East Village neighborhood blog EVGrieve posted a video depicting crowds of people at St. Mark’s Place on Friday night hanging out on the sidewalk and spilling onto the street. Many in the video aren’t wearing masks or standing at least six feet apart from other groups of people.

Similar scenes were documented over the weekend in Astoria and other neighborhoods.

In response to Cuomo’s statements, Mayor Bill de Blasio shot back that shutting down the city again wasn’t the right answer, according to another New York Post report.

“We had social distancing ambassadors out all weekend distributing masks and encouraging people to disperse after making their purchases,” a City Hall spokesperson told the Post. “These businesses are allowed to be open per the Governor’s guidelines and we don’t believe imprisoning people or taking away their livelihood is the answer.”

The city has deployed over 2,000 social distancing ambassadors to remind people to wear masks and stand six feet apart in an attempt to move social distancing enforcement out of the NYPD’s purview after a series of troubling incidents with the police enforcing the health-safety protocols.

Cuomo has also threatened that bars and restaurants may be in danger of losing their liquor licenses if they don’t disperse crowds and continue to serve customers who are not following correct social distancing measures. Several local elected leaders including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer spent the weekend reminding New Yorkers to maintain social distancing guidelines as well.

The NYC Hospitality Alliance, which represents thousands of restaurant and bar owners in the city, issued a statement this weekend condemning the violators and saying that the action “jeopardizes the progress we’ve made to flatten the curve.”

But the Alliance’s executive director Andrew Rigie also noted the dire financial situation that the city’s restaurants and bars are in, and called on local government to allow for a regulated outdoor dining environment immediately.

“Restaurants and bars subject themselves to huge liability and possible suspension of their alcohol license. We also risk government postponing our reopening, which will deepen the crisis our industry is already in,” Rigie said in the statement. “However, this pent-up demand demonstrates why our restaurants and bars need a lawful, regulated outdoor eating and drinking system now, and must be provided clear guidelines and expectations on when they can open outdoors and inside.”

The state has issued overarching sets of health-safety guidelines for both outdoor and indoor dining, but there has been no additional guidance on NYC dining from local government yet. It’s also unclear how restaurant owners should go about applying for expedited outdoor seating permits.

According to NYC’s Department of Health, the most recent publicly-available data shows that there were 74 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 recorded on June 12. It’s the first time that the daily count of new confirmed cases has dipped below 100 since the start of the pandemic. However, other areas of the country have recorded spikes in infection rates after moving into reopening phases.

The mayor’s office has cautiously estimated that the city will move into the second phase of reopening in early July, leaving at least two more weeks before restaurants and bars can lawfully engage in outdoor dining.