With COVID-19 positivity rates holding steady, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo gave the green light late last month to a pair of legislative moves that will prove to be positive measures for New York City’s beleaguered restaurant community.
Cuomo green lighted the return of indoor dining to NYC with 25% capacity on Feb. 14. Restaurants will be able to rejoin other restaurants throughout New York State on Valentine’s Day after two months of hiatus, following surging COVID-19 rates in December. “The restaurants want that period of time so they can notify workers, so they can get up to speed on dining, order supplies etc.,” Cuomo said at a press conference, adding that the trajectory can change if positivity or hospitalization rates suddenly surge.
Restaurants will have to follow the same rules as when indoor dining originally opened in New York City in September, including capacity restrictions, table distancing of six feet or more, mandatory temperature checks, contact tracing no bar service, and filtration upgrades.
The New York City hospitality industry had also been asking for the current business curfew to be pushed back from 10 p.m. to midnight, and Cuomo did not honor that request, citing concerns over late-night crowding at bars and trendier restaurants.
The catering industry, was also given positive news as the Governor also announced that marriage receptions will be able to resume in accordance with state guidance on March 15. Events must be approved by the local health department. There will be a 50 percent capacity limit and no more than 150 people can attend the event. All patrons must be tested prior to the event.
“The restaurant industry is the lifeblood of New York City and the economic hardship they have endured at the hands of COVID is nothing short of tragic,” Cuomo added. “This is a great development, but we cannot become complacent now – we must all continue to do our part to keep beating back COVID so we can continue re-opening our economy and get back to normal.”
The governor also provided additional positive news in the days after the 25% reopening announcement. With a 20 percent boost in vaccine supply Cuomo has announced that he will open up eligibility to more New Yorkers, including those working in restaurants. Those New Yorkers can now be considered priority 1b, one of two groups of New Yorkers that can receive the vaccines, Cuomo said. But he stressed the decision to expand eligibility to them depends on local governments.
“For restaurant workers, our Cities will now have that that flexibility,” he said.
Cuomo’s announcement came shortly after Mayor Bill de Blasio explicitly called on the state to open up vaccine eligibility to restaurant workers. “Now that the state made this decision, it follows that we have to protect those workers and they should be added to the 1b category,” de Blasio said.
The announcement also follows a New York Times analysis showing that New York City’s coronavirus case counts are 64 percent higher than in December, when he announced an indefinite ban on indoor dining.
Cuomo acknowledged that economics played a role in his decision to reopen indoor dining in the city. Restaurateurs cried foul that indoor dining was banned in the city while it carried on elsewhere in the state, including in places with higher COVID-19 numbers.
Across the river in New Jersey, Restaurant staffs are not yet eligible for vaccination as a category in and of itself yet in New Jersey, where indoor dining has remained open since Gov. Phil Murphy first approved its return at 25 percent capacity in early September. That has changed with Murphy announcing earlier this month that indoor dining capacity can increase to 35 percent as of Friday. On the same day, the governor says he will lift the statewide 10 p.m. indoor service curfew for restaurants, though he said local governments could leave that restriction in place if they so choose. The long-awaited changes to indoor dining in the Garden State came just in time for Super Bowl Sunday.