Indoor dining won’t be allowed to return to New York City until the city has an adequate and expanded enforcement plan for social distancing, Gov. Andrew Cuomo suggested today during a press conference.
That will come as tough news to the city’s beleaguered restaurants, which continue to push (and sue) for the ability to serve customers indoors as COVID-19 infections continue to hover below one percent. All other areas of the state have been able to open for indoor dining, with restrictions, for more than two months.
As points of concern regarding indoor dining, Cuomo cited “egregious, voluminous violations of the rules” by bars, local governments that were “slow to provide enforcement,” issues with the return of indoor dining upstate, and maxed-out state inspectors.
“I would need additional enforcement capacity from local governments,” Cuomo said, adding that indoor dining would “roughly double” the number of venues that need monitoring.
Here’s more of what Cuomo had to say:
“I am very aware of the economic pain that restaurants are dealing with...If we have the enforcement mechanism in place, then we can talk about opening restaurants. It would be negligent and reckless to open indoor dining knowing that you have issues in upstate New York, knowing that compliance is a problem, and knowing that you have no enforcement mechanism. We’re still working through that. Because I believe local governments could help us accomplish this goal if they wanted to.”
The public comments follow Cuomo’s statements during a call with reporters last week wherein he said he wanted to open restaurants, but was concerned about compliance. Mayor Bill de Blasio said last week he’s planning on making a determination on indoor dining sometime in September.
“We know indoor dining is problematic from our experience in Upstate New York,” Cuomo said during the press conference, but did not provide additional details on the “issues” or “clusters” that he mentioned. California, Florida, and other states have previously rolled back indoor dining regulations amid a resurgence in COVID-19 infections earlier in the summer.
Cuomo said any regulatory officer could carry out enforcement in the city, including health, sanitation, environmental, and industry inspectors.
When asked why Long Island could implement indoor dining and not the five boroughs, Cuomo said the island was doing “better compliance.”
A spokesperson for the mayor contacted by Eater questioned whether the governor provided evidence on the claim of better enforcement on Long Island. The governor, when pressed on that issue by a reporter, cited the number of city investigators as well as state investigators checking the work of local investigators.
The mayoral spokesperson also pointed to a Politico article whose authors argue that “New York City has been more zealous in its efforts to encourage compliance than elsewhere.”
Curiously, while discussing a hypothetical compliance scenario for indoor dining, Cuomo used an example of a restaurant abiding by a 25 percent capacity limit. In all other areas of the state, the indoor capacity limit is 50 percent. It would not be surprising for New York to adopt that lower level for the city, especially as the less densely populated New Jersey recently instituted a 25 percent cap for its own return to indoor dining.
As for the indoor dining process moving forward, deputy mayoral press secretary Mitch Schwartz told Eater that the city is “continuing to work with the State on a responsible timeline and clear protocols for re-opening. That process is underway.”
This article has been updated to reflect comments from the mayor’s deputy press secretary Mitch Schwartz