Updated: New York City restaurants get OK to open earlier for indoor dining on Valentine’s Day

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(The Center Square) – New York City restaurants got the news they’ve been pining for more than six weeks on Friday, but they’ll still have to wait before they can reopen.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said they will be able to reopen on Valentine’s Day February 12th, at 25 percent capacity, provided the COVID-19 metrics continue their downhill trajectory. The governor answered a request for an earlier date, allowing business owners two extra days to prepare for an expected Valentine’s Day rush.

The governor told reporters Friday that restaurant owners wanted some advance notice so they can bring back staff, order supplies and make other necessary preparations.

However, in a statement issued shortly after Cuomo’s announcement, the New York City Hospitality Alliance said its members were “brokenhearted” that they will have to wait two weeks before they can welcome patrons again.

“Restaurants in the city are ready to safely open now,” the group said.

Cuomo announced the shutdown of indoor dining in the Big Apple on Dec. 11 as the city and state were seeing a surge of COVID-19 cases during the holidays. While many industry leaders and Republican officials panned the decision, the governor said he was simply following the data.

“We’re reopening the economy, and we’re protecting public health,” he said. “We said it was never one or the other. It was always both. … It’s following science and following data. You watch those numbers, and you react to the numbers.”

The Hospitality Alliance still expressed frustration that the reopening is going way too slow in New York City, especially in comparison to other major cities and other parts of the state. Dining establishments in upstate regions, some of which have higher case and hospitalization rates, can run at 50 percent capacity.

Owners Kaie and Alexander Razaghi battled to keep Nisi open on Roosevelt Island, and now, the return to indoor dining promises a lift for them.

“Unfortunately, once again the state’s standards are being applied inequitably in the five boroughs without a transparent and data-driven system for further reopening the city’s restaurant economy,” the Alliance said. “These actions raise legal and moral concerns and extend unique economic challenges on the city’s battered restaurants and bars, which shed more than 140,000 jobs over the past year due to the pandemic and related restrictions.”

State and city officials have said New York City faces tighter restrictions because of its population density.

Earlier this week, Republicans in the New York state Senate unveiled a series of bills designed to help restaurants that have been impacted by the emergency orders the administration has issued during the pandemic.

In addition, Cuomo announced that reception venues will be able to reopen on March 15. Capacity will be limited to 50 percent, or up to 150 people. The venues will also need to use the same rapid testing protocols the state piloted with Buffalo Bills playoff games.

The two Bills games drew more than 6,700 fans each. All of them needed to test negative for the virus a couple of days before the game in order to enter the stadium.

Cuomo said follow-up reporting showed “virtually” no spread from the games.

In a statement, New York State Restaurant Association President and CEO Melissa Fleischut said Cuomo’s announcements were small steps but going in the right direction.

“We will keep doing our part to keep our employees and diners safe so we can continue to make progress toward a full reopening as soon as possible,” she said.

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