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NYC ‘Assessing’ CDC Mask Recommendations for Restaurants, Other Indoor Spaces

New Yorkers in every borough should wear masks indoors, under an updated list of guidelines from the Center for Disease Control

An empty dining room inside a restaurant Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Erika Adams is the editor of Eater Boston.

In light of the rapid spread of COVID-19’s delta variant across the country, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended on Tuesday that all Americans living in counties with “substantial to high” transmission rates — which currently includes all of NYC — should return to universal masking guidelines, including wearing masks in public indoor settings except when eating or drinking.

For now, however, NYC hasn’t yet reinstated a mask mandate. During a Wednesday press conference, de Blasio said that the city officials were “assessing the new information from the CDC” and “we’ll have more to say on it in the next few days.” The mask recommendation was based on data that suggests vaccinated people can still carry and transmit the virus, even though infections among fully vaccinated individuals happen only rarely and tend to be mild cases, according to the CDC’s new guidance.

Over the summer, the city has been reporting an uptick in new COVID-19 case counts driven by the spread of the highly transmissible delta variant. All of NYC’s five counties were reporting transmission rates considered either substantial or high by the CDC guidelines over the past week, Gothamist reports. A high transmission rate occurs when a county reports a test positivity rate above 10 percent or a COVID-19 case rate above 100 infections per 100,000 people, according to the report, while a substantial transmission rate involves a test positivity rate between 8 to 10 percent and a case rate between 50 to 100 infections per 100,000 people. While test positivity rates remain between 2 to 3 percent in all five boroughs, the number of recent case rates puts Staten Island at a high transmission rate, while the other four boroughs have substantial transmission levels.

Prior to the new CDC statement, the mayor has said repeatedly that the city will not bring back a universal mask mandate amid the rise in case counts. Instead, de Blasio has been doubling down on vaccination efforts, and continued to say on Wednesday that vaccinations were “key” to the city’s ongoing recovery. The mayor’s office announced this week that all city workers, about 340,000 in total, would be required to get vaccinated or consent to weekly COVID-19 tests as a condition of employment starting September 13.

Restaurants are also rethinking vaccination requirements for diners amid the latest rise in COVID-19 cases. Greenwich Village seafood hotspot Dame announced this week that it would start requiring proof of vaccination for all diners at the restaurant, effective immediately. Co-owner Patricia Howard tells Eater that the restaurant implemented the measure to to err “on the side of caution” given the establishment’s small space and because two of Dame’s staffers are immunocompromised. After the mayor’s office announced the new vaccination requirement for city workers, “we felt more confident that it’s the right thing to do regardless of the response,” Howard said in an email.

The restaurant alerted its roughly 500 upcoming reservations on Monday night and Tuesday morning that it would now be requiring proof of vaccination in order to dine, and only had to cancel two reservations, according to Howard. “Thankfully, nearly everyone has been so appreciative and supportive,” she said. “We’ve received 100s of emails back (which we were not expecting), thanking us for the initiative, thanking us for keeping our community safe, saying it makes them even more excited to dine at Dame, and hoping other restaurants follow suit.” After posting the new policy on Instagram, Dame only received negative comments from one anti-vaxxer account, according to Howard.

A number of other restaurants have implemented vaccination requirements after New York first loosened its mask mandate in May. Popular Lower East Side spot Cervo’s has been requiring diners to show proof of vaccination in order to dine indoors since reopening in June. Restaurateur Gabriel Stulman’s newest spot, Jolene’s in Noho, also requires proof of vaccination for indoor diners. Despite the risk of sparking backlash among some diners, restaurateurs told Eater in June that the measure generally has been good for business and allowed operations to run more smoothly.

While NYC is not yet recommending another mask mandate, other cities across the country have moved in that direction. Public health officials in Philadelphia, Austin, and Seattle have recommended that all residents, vaccinated and unvaccinated, wear masks indoors. Los Angeles re-implemented an indoor mask mandate for everyone regardless of vaccination status starting July 17. Other cities like Boston and San Francisco have also seen an uptick in restaurants requiring diners to show proof of vaccination in recent weeks.

As of July 26, the COVID-19 test positivity rate on a seven-day average in NYC was 2.55 percent, according to city data. More than 4.3 million adult NYC residents — roughly 66 percent of the total adult population — have been fully vaccinated as of July 28.