New York City, facing the prospects of widespread restaurant layoffs, a 20 percent unemployment rate, and a $2 billion class action lawsuit over an indefinite indoor dining ban, will finally give an answer over whether to allow indoor dining, Mayor Bill de Blasio said during during his daily press conference.
De Blasio, who cited concerns about links between COVID-19 infections and indoor dining, said the decision would come during the month of September, but added that it would not necessarily lean one way or the other.
Here’s what the mayor said:
We’ve been honest with the restaurant industry about the challenge. But I’ve also heard back that folks just want a final answer so they can make their plans up and down. I think it’s our responsibility to give them as clear an answer in the month of September as possible of where we’re going. If there can be a timeline, if there can be a set of standards for reopening, we need to decide that in the next few weeks and announce it, whether it’s good news or bad news...We owe the industry as clear an answer as humanly possible soon, but it’s always going to be about health and safety first.
De Blasio suggested the decision over indoor dining would be separate from the question over whether to reopen indoor bars and nightclubs which, in his words, have been “particularly intense nexuses for resurgence around the country and around the world.”
After the press conference, City Council speaker Corey Johnson issued a statement calling for indoor dining to resume, “with reduced capacity and clear guidance to ensure social distancing and safety.
“Now is the time to allow it in New York City,” Johnson added.
The mayor previously stated that bringing back indoor dining would depend on the success of initiatives like the reopening of schools. However, earlier this week de Blasio seemed to backtrack and suggested that indoor dining might not return until the city had made a “huge step forward” in fighting the virus, possibly including “a vaccine in the spring.”
Earlier this week, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced that the Garden State would allow indoor dining starting on Friday, at 25 percent capacity. Restaurants throughout the five boroughs and the New York Hospitality Alliance, which advocates on behalf of owners, have been pushing the city for more concrete plans, especially as the weather turns cooler and outdoor eating becomes less feasible.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo excluded indoor dining from New York City when it began phase three of the reopening process on July 6. Virus rates throughout the rest of the state, where indoor dining is permitted at half capacity, have remained low but Cuomo has expressed concern over the city’s density and population. De Blasio said he’s working “really closely” with the state on indoor dining.
The New York City 7-day rolling average for positive tests is currently 0.9 percent. That rate is among the lowest in the country, but the city and state are seeking to avoid a repeat of the spring, when the pandemic led to over 19,000 deaths and a shutdown that resulted in Depression-era unemployment.
COVID-19 has killed over 183,000 people in the U.S.
Update, 3:56 p.m.: This story has been updated to include a statement from City Council speaker Corey Johnson.