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SLA Recruits Army of Volunteer State Workers to Help Report Social-Distancing Violations

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40 people have volunteered as investigators logging social-distancing violations in NYC and Long Island, according to a new report

Customers sit at tables separated by dividers outside Boucherie restaurant in the West Village as New York City moves into Phase 2 of re-opening following restrictions imposed to curb the coronavirus pandemic on June 26, 2020.
Outdoor dining in the West Village
Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images

As Gov. Andrew Cuomo publicly pressures local government to more rigorously enforce social-distancing rules, the State Liquor Authority has asked state workers from various government offices to volunteer their time as investigators reporting social-distancing violations at bars and restaurants in NYC and Long Island, the New York Post reports.

The Post obtained an internal email from the SLA calling for state workers to apply to be trained as investigators logging social-distancing violations for the state agency. Forty people have already applied and been approved as new investigators as a result of the callout, the SLA confirmed to the Post.

New investigators added to the team have prior investigatory experience and receive more training before beginning their work, according to a spokesperson for the governor’s office.

“Throughout the response to the pandemic, state workers have stepped up to support fellow agencies in their efforts to combat COVID, including investigators who are detailed to the multi-agency task force on bars and restaurants,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “These investigators are all examples of dedicated public servants, and we thank them for their commitment to protecting New Yorkers’ health and keeping the coronavirus at bay.”​

The staffers “would be trained and expected to walk neighborhoods in NYC and Long Island to observe restaurants and bars for compliance with reopening guidelines,” according to the SLA’s internal email, and they would be “required” to submit “narrative reports” and photos of non-compliant businesses at the end of each shift. Working hours range from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. each day.

An anonymous state senator told the Post that Cuomo’s statewide hiring freeze, enacted in April, has left state agencies stretched thin and scrambling to handle overwhelming workloads. The 40 volunteer investigators that signed on to help report social-distancing violations downstate have greatly swelled the program’s previous ranks of 30 full-time investigators across the state, with 13 workers typically assigned to cover NYC and Long Island.

The number of NYC bars and restaurants cited for social-distancing violations has climbed over the past week: 84 businesses received citations between July 21 and 23, and 105 more establishments received citations over the past weekend. Across the city, 29 bars and restaurants have had their liquor licenses temporarily suspended due to social-distancing violations.

The workers investigating social-distancing compliance have checked about 9,200 establishments across the state, and about 90 percent of the businesses are compliant, according to the governor’s office.

But the rollout of the enforcement of social distancing and outdoor dining rules has been widely panned by restaurant owners and local lawmakers who say that the changing regulations — coming from numerous state agencies — are confusing and difficult to follow.

It’s not clear whether reports from the new army of volunteer investigators led to any of the recent citations issued, according to the Post.

Update, 11:28 a.m.: This story has been updated with additional information from a spokesperson for the governor’s office.

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