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De Blasio Warns Against Expanding Indoor Dining Capacity as More COVID-19 Variants Emerge

Nearby, New Jersey has paused its reopening efforts

People have lunch at Chelsea Square Restaurant as New York City restaurants open for limited capacity indoor dining on October 1, 2020 in New York.
Indoor dining in NYC last October
Photo by BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP via Getty Images
Erika Adams is the editor of Eater Boston.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has called for a halt to any further indoor dining capacity expansions in the five boroughs until more data is available about COVID-19 variants circulating in the city. The announcement comes on the heels of New Jersey putting a pause on the state’s reopening efforts while COVID-19 case counts remain high.

“I think it is time to reassess for sure,” de Blasio said of the city and state’s ongoing reopening efforts. “A good example is with indoor dining. The city now getting up to 50 percent, certainly we have to stop there. That would be my strong view, while we see what happens with these variants and the overall situation.”

Since the beginning of March, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has overseen a slew of reopenings in New York. The state allowed NYC restaurants to expand from 35 percent indoor capacity to 50 percent starting March 19, while restaurants in the rest of the state could expand to 75 percent indoor capacity the same day. Movie theaters were allowed to reopen in the city at 25 percent capacity in early March, with no more than 50 people per screening. Indoor fitness classes resumed today at 33 percent capacity (much to the mayor’s dismay).

At the same time, case counts in NYC remain high. As of March 17, the COVID-19 test positivity rate on a seven-day average in NYC was 6.6 percent, tracking above the city’s safety threshold of 5 percent, according to city data. On Saturday, New York reported its first case of a concerning COVID-19 variant first found in Brazil that is more highly contagious and has the ability to infect people who previously contracted COVID-19, according to the New York Times.

In New Jersey, indoor capacity at restaurants, gyms, barbershops, and salons increased to 50 percent on March 19. The state is reporting the highest seven-day case rate in the country as of March 21, according to Bloomberg, with 314.5 positive cases per 100,000 residents. By today, Gov. Phil Murphy said on CNN that the New Jersey likely “won’t be opening capacity for some time now because of the caseload.”

Mayor de Blasio said that a similar pause would be the right move in New York, especially when it comes to capacity expansions for indoor dining. Cuomo and state officials ultimately hold the power to make the decisions on New York’s reopening rollout.

“Let’s stay at the level we are at now [with indoor dining] and not have any further expansion until we get a lot more information about these variants and see how we do,” de Blasio said at the Monday press conference. “We’re going to be watching, we’re going to be talking about the data, constantly. And if we see something else that needs to be adjusted, I and the doctors will certainly be very, very public about it.”