Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that he would unveil a reopening plan by the end of this week outlining how NYC restaurants may soon offer indoor dining once again. The announcement was the opposite of a statement he made Monday where he said that his administration was “not contemplating” a return to indoor dining anytime soon.
“I fully understand how difficult it is for restaurants and for all the people working there,” said Cuomo during the press conference Wednesday. “Because of the density, we are hyper cautious about the situation in New York City.”
Cuomo said his administration was spending this week talking to health officials, elected city officials including Mayor Bill de Blasio, and restaurant owners and advocates ahead of the scheduled announcement. Cuomo indicated that his plan would focus on whether it was safe for restaurants in NYC to reopen at 25 percent capacity indoors.
Last week, major cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. all announced plans to resume indoor dining at 25 percent capacity. Earlier this week, California lifted its stay-at-home order and curfew, allowing outdoor dining to resume for the first time since November.
In light of these developments, and the fact that indoor dining is currently allowed in limited capacity in all parts of New York State — and in nearby New Jersey — restaurant advocates have increased calls to resume indoor dining in NYC and to extend the existing 10 p.m. curfew on restaurants to 12 a.m. Cuomo indicated Wednesday that the state wasn’t currently looking to push the curfew to midnight saying his administration had concerns about crowding outside restaurants and bars later at night.
The state is also facing a litany of lawsuits from different groups of NYC restaurants looking to resume indoor dining. Many restaurants owners cite the state’s own data — that restaurants and bars accounted for 1.4 percent of COVID-19 cases between September and November last year compared to 73.8 percent for private gatherings — as a reason for reopening.
Restaurant owners have spent large sums of money adding new air filtration systems, barriers, QR-code menus, and other changes to minimize contact inside restaurants and to put diners at ease over returning indoors. Yet, the state continues to cite data from health experts, including from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which indicates that the virus is more likely to spread in indoor environments like restaurants. Many restaurant owners have countered by asking how gyms and grocery stores are still allowed to operate in the city.
This week, both state and city data indicated a drop in COVID-19 cases, though the number of deaths appear to be steady with the state reporting 162 deaths on Tuesday, and the total number of new cases each day are still above 11,000.
Cuomo indicated Wednesday that it was in the best interest of the state to open restaurants in the city as well saying “opening restaurants generate more revenue.” The recent U.S. cases over different variants of the virus from Brazil and the United Kingdom prompted Cuomo to clarify that his administration was prepared to make changes to existing guidelines if cases rise again, but he expressed hope about more vaccines being administered before then.