Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday that indoor dining would resume in NYC on February 14, yet the announcement was met with a mixed reaction by the restaurant industry. Many restaurant owners have been calling for the reopening for weeks, citing the fact that indoor dining has been available elsewhere in the state, and pointing to the state’s own data that restaurants and bars accounted for 1.4 percent of COVID-19 cases between September and November last year.
Still, many others in the industry have expressed concerns about bringing staffers back to work indoors to serve customers when restaurant workers still aren’t eligible for vaccinations. Cuomo was asked about these concerns during a press conference on Monday, and while he agreed it was a necessity, he said the state simply didn’t have the supplies to vaccinate restaurant workers right now.
“Of course I want restaurant workers to be eligible,” he said, during the press conference. “I think everyone should be eligible, but the realistic situation is that we just don’t have the supplies.” He also posed a rhetorical question, asking if any current groups receiving vaccinations should be removed from the list to make room for restaurant workers.
New York is currently in Phase 1b of its vaccination effort, which means people over 65, grocery store workers, first responders, teachers, and some other groups can get vaccinated at present, but restaurant workers haven’t been mentioned so far. Some estimates say restaurant workers will receive the vaccination in the fourth phase, though it’s not yet clear if or when that will happen. While restaurants have been categorized as essential businesses allowed to stay open during the pandemic, many workers are frustrated and scared that they haven’t been prioritized as essential workers.
At Monday’s press conference, Cuomo once again outlined his need to balance public safety concerns with economic concerns — the hospitality industry has suffered historic losses during the pandemic and thousands of establishments have permanently closed.
“People need to work, they need income,” said Cuomo. “The federal government is talking about sending a check but it won’t be a substitute for sustained income.”
A spokesperson for the governor said his decision was based on “data and expert advice,” and Cuomo stated at the presser that the COVID-19 positivity rate in the state had tracked downward for 24 days straight as of Monday. As of Sunday, the state’s positivity rate was 4.4 percent, down from 7.1 percent on January 5.
“As the Governor has said, after the holiday surge, New Yorkers are bringing the infection rate down and that allows us to loosen the valve and allow more economic activity,” a spokesperson for Cuomo said in an email.
Still, following the second ban on indoor dining in December last year, the state was hit by a raft of lawsuits by various restaurant owners. The state insists the decision to reopen is based on data and continues to point to the downward coronavirus positivity trend as a reason for reopening. Cuomo hasn’t ruled out additional restrictions if new strains of the virus prompt cases to rise in NYC once again.