From Monday, indoor dining in New York restaurants will be banned again, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said on Friday. This is a major reversal of the city’s reopening that comes as officials attempt to halt the escalation of a second wave of coronavirus and avoid a wider shutdown.
The decision that Mr Cuomo proposed earlier this week was far from certain. It is a heavy blow to the city’s restaurant industry, a major economic pillar grappling with pandemic restrictions and a national recession year-round.
Mr. Cuomo recognized the difficulties his decision would likely cause and again called on federal legislators to exonerate the hotel industry. The leaders of Congress have not yet reached an agreement on a new stimulus package.
Even as he announced the new restriction, the governor provided data showing that restaurants and bars were likely not the main driver of new cases in the state and lagged far behind private gatherings.
Even so, the governor identified the end of indoor eating in New York City as necessary amid new federal guidelines, increasing virus transmission rates, and the city’s population density. Mr Cuomo has warned that an expected surge in cases this winter threatens to overwhelm the medical system. While preparations to distribute the first doses of vaccine began last month, virus-related hospital stays in the state have more than tripled.
The governor said Friday that the city is currently on track to reach 90 percent of its hospital capacity. At that point, he would close all non-material deals. He described the ban on eating indoors as an attempt to avoid such a move.
Restaurants and bars, said Mr Cuomo, are “one of the few places we think we can actually make a difference”.
The contract came when the 21 Club in Manhattan appeared to be the newest iconic New York restaurant to succumb to the pandemic. In a notice filed with the state Department of Labor on Wednesday, the restaurant – a President Trump favorite – said it would shut down “indefinitely” and lay off all employees next March.
In a statement, restaurant owners said the pandemic and an expected long recovery made it impossible to reopen the 21 Club “in its current form for the foreseeable future”. But the owners said they hope to reopen at some point and are considering long-term options, according to the statement.
The restaurant, which opened as a speakeasy during the ban, closed and fired its staff on March 16 when the governor ordered the closure of unnecessary businesses in the state. Although officials eventually allowed al fresco dining and limited indoor dining, the 21 Club remained closed to customers.
Bill Granfield, the president of Local 100 of Unite Here, the union that represents the restaurant’s workers, said the union hopes the restaurant will someday reopen in some way, he said.
Andrew Rigie, director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, said in a statement that the governor’s decision “contradicts the state data on which these decisions are based, and that it is the final straw for countless other restaurants and restaurants will be jobs. “
Mr. Rigie also called for more economic support for restaurants and bars in trouble, saying the end of indoor dining would “seriously jeopardize” their survival.
For months, New York City restaurant owners have been warning that their businesses, many of which operate at tight margins in the best of times, are on the verge of financial collapse. Thousands of workers have been laid off since March, including many low-wage workers, and their work has not yet fully returned.
Industry fears only increase as winter approaches and cold temperatures discourage customers from dining outside. Industry groups have repeatedly asked for federal or state financial support, with restaurant and bar owners nervously watching as the business talks drag on in Washington.
Apr 11, 2020 at 11:32 am ET
The governor’s announcement came after weeks of changing messages about indoor dining that didn’t resume until late September in New York City.
When virus cases surfaced across the state this fall, Mr Cuomo was reluctant to impose the widespread restrictions he put in place in March when restricting restaurants and bars to takeaway and delivery.
In October, the governor said he would shut down indoor dining only in the hardest hit areas of the state called microclusters. He briefly changed course in late November, saying he would stop indoor dining across town when the seven-day average test positivity rate hit 3 percent. He retracted that statement about a week later.
Mr Cuomo and his aides have said that the state’s approach has changed to follow evolving directions from epidemiologists. By this week, the governor had turned much of his attention to indoor parties and other gatherings, downplaying the risks of indoor dining, although growing evidence suggested it was a significant source of the virus’ spread.
But on Monday, Mr Cuomo had warned that he would restrict indoor eating in regions where hospital stays were not stabilizing, citing recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention where eating indoors was considered ” particularly high-risk “activity was described.
Then, on Friday, Mr. Cuomo said contact tracing data showed restaurants and bars were the fifth major source of new infections in the state, well behind household and social gatherings. The data is only based on those who respond to contact tracers and doesn’t track every infection in the state, officials said.
Of 46,000 cases between September and November, 1.43 percent were associated with restaurants and bars, compared with 73.84 percent associated with private gatherings and 7.81 percent with the healthcare system, the second largest source.
The governor recognized the inequality but said the state had limited ability to address such gatherings and other sources of infection.
“We’re doing everything we can,” he said.
Mr. Cuomo did not announce any new restrictions on restaurants and bars in the rest of the state that could reopen faster and operate indoors with a maximum capacity of 50 percent, compared to 25 percent in New York City.
However, he said the state will monitor weekend hospital stays and “make adjustments next week” if data suggests it is necessary.
The governor also did not set a schedule or threshold for resumption of food in New York City. An adviser, Jim Malatras, said the state will monitor virus cases and hospital stays over a two-week period to see if trends allow re-eating indoors.
As of Friday, 1,668 people were hospitalized with the virus in New York, Cuomo said. Nationwide, 5,321 people were hospitalized. The transmission rate in the state has been estimated at 1.3, meaning that each infected person will infect 1.3 other people.
Luis Ferré-Sadurní contributed to the coverage.