Cuomo shuts down indoor seating at New York City restaurants, contemplates similar move for rest of state

(The Center Square) – On the same day New York gave its approval for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to be deployed in the state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo also announced the state would close indoor dining New York City, a move that could put thousands of businesses on the brink of permanent closure.

With outdoor dining closed, the crisis for restaurants like Nisi becomes critical.
RIOC flexibility made Nisi’s reopening for outdoor dining easier and less risky. But was it really enough? And now, with Cuomo shutting down indoor dining again, the crisis becomes existential. Photo: David Stone/Roosevelt Island Daily

It was news the city’s bars and restaurants had been dreading since the governor said at the start of the week that he would take that action if hospitalization rates hadn’t stabilized before the weekend.

The move takes effect on Monday, and establishments can still offer outdoor seating as well as takeout and delivery. That didn’t satisfy the New York City Hospitality Alliance called the move “the last straw” for businesses that have received scant government support during the pandemic.

The group representing the city’s restaurants and bars also was bewildered that while the move was made to close the city’s restaurants on Friday, the state would wait until after the weekend to determine if restaurants elsewhere in the state would be forced to reduce indoor capacity. That’s as positivity rates remain significantly higher in places like Westchester and Suffolk counties as compared to Manhattan.

In a statement, the alliance also cited state data showing that indoor dining is apparently responsible for just 1.4 percent of COVID-19 cases, compared to 74 percent that are due to in-home gatherings.

“New York City’s restaurants have gone above and beyond in ensuring their businesses create a safe and healthy environment for their customers and employees that meet the state’s requires safety protocols – at a significant cost – and it’s worked,” the group said.

Republican leaders were similarly displeased.

“Eliminating indoor dining in New York City will push restaurants and their employees to a point from which there is no recovery,” Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay said in a statement. “The governor’s previous restrictions were nearly impossible to endure, and his latest decision threatens to inflict permanent damage to a critical sector of the city’s economy and workforce.”

“These establishments made major investments to keep their staff and customers safe,” Barclay’s counterpart in the Senate, Rob Ortt, said in a news release. “The idea that customers will dine in the snow or cold weather, or that a restaurant will survive on take-out alone, is ludicrous.

One area where Cuomo and the restaurants do see eye-to-eye is on the necessity for government relief. The state, facing a $30 billion deficit over the next two years, isn’t in a position to offer financial aid now, the governor said. However, Cuomo did announce the extension of a moratorium on commercial business evictions.

“The federal government must provide relief to these bars and restaurants in this next package,” he said. “I understand (the government’s) battling COVID. I also understand you’re wiping out businesses.”

Cuomo also unveiled new metrics for the state’s microcluster strategy, with the leading driver now hospitalization rates within communities.

Neighborhoods will become red zones, and face the most severe restrictions, if state data finds they are three weeks away from reaching 90 percent of expanded hospital capacity. That’s provided if the hospitals in the area have canceled performing elective procedures.

“We don’t want to go back to a red zone,” he said. “Other states have gone back to closure. We don’t want to go there. The only reason you would close the economy is because you’re going to overwhelm the hospitals, and if you get to 90 percent of hospital capacity, then you are effectively at the point where you’re going to overwhelm the capacity.”

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