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New York Temporarily Allows Indoor Dining in Most of the State, Except NYC

The state made the decision in response to an ongoing lawsuit, but it’s unclear how long this measure will last

A row of tables lined up with a semi-circular banquet with green pillows running all along.
Indoor dining remains closed in NYC
Gary Landsman

The governor’s office declared Thursday that all restaurants located within orange zones in the state — except in New York City — would be allowed to resume indoor dining at half capacity temporarily, but with certain additional restrictions in place, Politico reports.

The decision comes after a New York State judge announced Wednesday that a number of restaurants within Erie County would be allowed to operate at half capacity temporarily. About 100 restaurants in the county had sued the state using the state’s own data, which showed that restaurants and bars accounted for 1.4 percent of COVID-19 cases in the state compared to private, household gatherings, which account for nearly 74 percent of the cases.

The judge issued a preliminary injunction in favor of the restaurants saying that the state hadn’t provided enough rationale for the additional restrictions, including the indoor dining ban. The judge’s decision, however, is temporary, with a final verdict expected next week. The ruling also applied just to those Erie County restaurants that filed suit. In order to avoid confusing guidelines statewide, however, the state has now temporarily moved all restaurants previously within orange zones to yellow zones as it waits to to make its case in court, according to a spokesperson for the state.

“We disagree with the court’s decision and its impact on public health as Federal CDC data clearly demonstrates indoor dining increases COVID-19 spread,” said Kumiki Gibson, counsel to the governor of New York, in a statement to Politico. “From the start of this pandemic, the State has acted based on facts and the advice of public health experts, and we will continue that approach.”

Restaurants in yellow zones can serve up to four people per table inside and outside, though restaurants will still have to abide by the half capacity rule indoors. While NYC has one orange zone at present in southern Staten Island, the ruling does not apply to the city, where indoor dining remains off limits throughout the five boroughs.

State officials have previously cited the city’s population density, advice from the Centers for Disease Control about the potential risk of the virus spreading with indoor dining, and the fact that the city was previously the epicenter of the virus in the U.S., as reasons for keeping indoor dining shut indefinitely as cases rise throughout the state.

Still, many restaurant owners in the city are confounded by the decision to allow indoor dining in NYC-adjacent locales like Westchester, Long Island, and New Jersey, while the ban remains in place in the city. Following the state’s announcement Thursday, the NYC Hospitality Alliance — which represents thousands of restaurants in the city — also expressed consternation at the decision.

Andrew Rigie, the executive director of the group, said the decision is “all the more outrageous and destructive to thousands of restaurants across the five boroughs, especially when our infection and hospitalization rates are lower than most counties in the State where indoor dining is permitted at 50 percent occupancy.” The state is also facing a barrage of lawsuits filed by various restaurateurs in the city opposed to the indoor dining ban.

As of Thursday, the state’s COVID-19 positivity rate was at 6.42 percent, and NYC has one of the lowest percentage of patients hospitalized in relation to its population, compared to other regions in the state, though there are currently 3,292 patients hospitalized in NYC.