Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday that NYC restaurants could increase indoor dining capacity from the current 25 to 35 percent starting next Friday, February 26. The move comes after indoor dining made a return to NYC on February 12, as Cuomo cited the continuing decline in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations as the reasons for the reopening.
In recent weeks, some NYC restaurant owners have been calling on the state to increase capacity to 50 percent. The five boroughs are the only areas in New York State not to have indoor dining at half capacity, though the Cuomo administration has continually cited the city’s density and the fact that it was the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic back in March 2020 as reasons for moving slower in the city.
Still, this is the highest capacity restaurants will be able to seat diners indoors since the first state-mandated restaurant and bar shutdowns went into place in March last year. Restaurant groups like the New York City Hospitality Alliance have been calling for an accelerated opening in the city, pointing to the lack of government support and the growing rent crisis for establishments, prompting fears of more permanent closures in the coming months if business doesn’t pick up.
While the COVID-19 statistics are trending downward overall, the city’s positivity rate is at 7.29 percent on a seven-day average, compared to last summer when it was hovering at the one percent mark and restaurants and bars were restricted to outdoor dining. Cases are also down, but the city is still recording more than 3,000 cases daily based on a seven-day average. Health experts, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, continue to cite indoor dining as one of the highest risk activities for the spread of the virus, and have recently warmed about a spike in cases again due to a mix of reopenings nationwide and the presence of new COVID-19 variants.
When he decided to reopen indoor dining earlier this month, Cuomo cited the need to weigh business interests against public health concerns. The governor ultimately deemed it a greater need to start reopening. The decision came as more New Yorkers are getting vaccinated, though many restaurant workers still remain unvaccinated, and even those that have received them have only got the first dose so far. While many restaurant owners are eager to open, and some workers want a steady paycheck, other owners and workers have expressed concerns about returning while a majority of the population is still without vaccines.
When NYC starts indoor dining at 35 percent capacity, it will join New Jersey, which announced in early February that it would be reopening its dining rooms at the same capacity. Recently, Cuomo pushed the 10 p.m. restaurant curfew to 11 p.m., though many in the industry want it pushed back to 12 a.m.