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Economy

Cuomo Clears the Way for Indoor Dining in New York City

September 10, 2020

NEW YORK — New York City restaurants can resume indoor dining on Sept. 30 at a quarter of capacity, with temperature checks for customers and other restrictions, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.

All customers must undergo temperature checks at the door, and one member of each party will have to provide information for contact tracing if needed, he said.

Customers will not be able to sit at bars, which will be used to provide drinks for table service, and restaurants must close at midnight. Tables must be 6 feet apart, and customers must wear masks while not at the table. Restaurant owners also face stricter air filtration and ventilation standards.

"This may not look like the indoor dining that we all know and love, but it is progress for restaurant workers and all New Yorkers," said Mayor Bill de Blasio, like Cuomo a Democrat.

Restaurants were among the hardest-hit businesses when New York City emerged as a pandemic hot spot in March. Thousands of city restaurants have been serving food outdoors this summer, but the industry has been pushing for indoor service as cooler weather approaches.

"Restaurants are essential to New York's economic and social fabric, and indoor dining is a key component to the industry's recovery," Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, said in an emailed statement.

The rest of the state outside New York City has allowed indoor dining at half of capacity since June, when state officials allowed different regions to open up gradually.

De Blasio had said in late June that New York City was on track to allow indoor dining at half capacity starting July 6. But it was put on hold over worries about the risk of dining in crowded, enclosed indoor areas where people are talking loudly and drinking.

The governor and mayor have repeatedly expressed concern about reopening too quickly in a state that has reported over 25,000 deaths of people who tested positive for COVID-19, an undercount that doesn't include the deaths of 4,600 people who likely had the virus in New York City alone.

At the pandemic's peak, the city reported over 7,800 new cases on April 14 alone. 

Hospitalizations and fatalities have since plunged statewide. And the city has since been able to keep the spread of the virus low, with about 1% of tests coming back positive since mid-June. 

Still, New York City had not rid itself of COVID-19. The city has reported an average of 300 new cases a day since it began reopening June 8 under Cuomo's plan.

But Cuomo has been under increasing pressure to allow indoor dining in recent weeks as restaurant owners have threatened legal action. And neighboring New Jersey recently enacted similar rules to allow indoor dining.

Cuomo's Wednesday announcement comes after his recent remarks that New York doesn't have enough inspectors to ensure New York City restaurants are following indoor dining rules. 

"We knew that compliance was lacking in New York City. That was a reason for caution," Cuomo said at a Wednesday briefing.

The governor said the city is providing 400 code enforcement inspectors to help monitor as many as 10,000 restaurants. 

But Cuomo said the state is counting on New Yorkers themselves to report restaurants that exceed posted capacity limits. 

Cuomo said the state could halt indoor dining if infection rates go up. But if it remains steady, New York City could lift more restrictions on indoor dining starting Nov. 1, when Cuomo said the state will look at the infection data and decide whether to allow increased capacity at restaurants.

"We'll just watch it and see what we hear and study the evidence," Cuomo said.

Cuomo said he didn't have an exact threshold in mind for halting indoor dining in New York City.

But de Blasio said the city will "immediately reassess" if positivity rates hit 2%. New York City last saw over 2% of COVID-19 tests come back positive in early June.

The city of 8 million residents reported nearly 9,100 new COVID-19 cases out of a million tests conducted in August. That compares with nearly 10,000 positive results in July and 11,700 in June, when the city was running about 850,000 tests a month.

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