New York's 474-Day COVID Emergency Is Officially Over (and So Is To-Go Alcohol)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo first declared COVID-19 a disaster emergency in New York on March 7, 2020, six days after he and Mayor Bill de Blasio reported the first confirmed virus case and a week before the first confirmed death

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What to Know

  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo's longstanding COVID-19 State of Emergency expires on Thursday; he said a day earlier it would not be renewed
  • The change means public meetings, for example, no longer must occur virtually and the state is getting rid of the popular alcohol-to-go sales; it also means the end of some required data reporting on COVID
  • New Yorkers will still have to wear masks on public transit, hospitals, nursing homes, correctional facilities and homeless shelters

Carryout alcohol was a lifeline for many restaurants and bars in New York amid the pandemic, though Gov. Andrew Cuomo's provision permitting that within his COVID-19 disaster declaration expires on Thursday as the overarching order does.

Cuomo first declared COVID-19 a disaster emergency in New York on March 7, 2020, six days after he and Mayor Bill de Blasio reported the first confirmed virus case in New York City and a week before the state's first confirmed death.

That single declaration empowered him to impose an ongoing series of restrictions and orders over the next year and a half, rules the state said were necessary to protect public health amid the pandemic.

Some of the rules were more like temporary permissions -- like outdoor dining, which New York City has adopted into a separate permanent program, and alcohol-to-go, which expires along with the emergency executive order. The State Liquor Authority says the booze-to-go sales are no longer permissible after Thursday.

Cuomo's announcement also changes a few logistical elements. Public meetings, for example, no longer need to happen virtually. As has been the case all along, individual businesses can impose stricter standards if they so choose.

And some rules stay in place for large indoor venues that hold more than 5,000 people: Attendees must produce proof of vaccination, or wear masks and present proof of negative test results.

New Yorkers still have to wear masks on public transit, hospitals, nursing homes, correctional facilities and homeless shelters in accordance with federal guidance. The CDC doesn't plan to change its mask guidance for at least a few more weeks, if not longer, Cuomo has said, citing discussions with the agency.

Students and staff still have to wear masks at schools indoors until this academic year ends, which is Friday in New York City, though the Department of Health didn't immediately say whether that rule applies for summer schools.

New york has been under an official state of emergency since the pandemic began, but it will end on Thursday, Gov. Cuomo announced. But that doesn't mean the few restrictions still in place are going away just yet. NBC New York's John Chandler reports.

Masks are encouraged, not required, for all campers and staff at summer camps this year, another CDC recommendation adopted by New York. And more could change in the coming weeks and months as the local and national COVID outlook improves.

"We're starting to write a new chapter for a post-COVID New York -- the state disaster emergency is ending and we can focus on reimagining, rebuilding and renewing our state," Cuomo said in a statement Wednesday. "This doesn't mean COVID is gone, we still have to get more New Yorkers vaccinated, but we are getting back on track and starting to live life once again."

While business owners welcome the return to normalcy, the alcohol-to-go provision was one COVID-19 rule that many restaurants and bars had come to embrace.

"It was a revenue stream that we came to depend on in order to survive the pandemic," said Victor Santos of Mamajuana Cafe on Inwood's Dyckman Street.

The restaurant served hundreds of drinks to-go every weekend. For a time, it was the only way it made money.

Mayor de Blasio also weighed in on the alcohol to-go provision, telling reporters Thursday that it "actually worked pretty well" and he'd like to see it extended for the foreseeable future to help struggling restaurants like Santos' and others.

Also down with that idea: Chef Eric LeVine, who owns and runs 317 Main Street in Farmingdale. He previously told NBC New York that to-go cocktails brought in cash when the food business was down by 60%.

Still, even with restaurant service getting closer to some semblance of normalcy, he had hoped to continue the practice to help recoup pandemic losses.

State legislators failed to vote on a bill that would have extended alcohol-to-go orders for another year.

The New York City Hospitality Alliance, which represents more than 24,000 eateries across the five boroughs, says it will continue to fight for the return of the cocktails on the go. It blames the liquor store lobby for inaction on that extension in Albany, say8ing those shops complained about losing business to restaurant to-go booze sales.

Santos says that doesn't make any sense: "You go to a liquor store you can get a bottle for $10, a cocktail would go for $14."

According to a survey published late May by the New York State Restaurant Association, 78% of New Yorkers wanted a law permanently allowing for to-go cocktails. The statewide poll surveyed 700 people in the state between May 14 and 20.

"Only in New York would elected officials ignore an overwhelming majority of the public," NYS Restaurant Association President and CEO Melissa Felischut said. "Restaurants are struggling to find staff, keep up with rising costs and manage a limited supply of good, and nearly two-thirds of the applicants will not receive Restaurant Relief Funds. New York state must do more to help, not hurt, our restaurant industry."

While you can still order beer to-go like before the pandemic, many patrons agree that they should be able to do the same with other kinds of alcohol.

"I don't see a reason why it should end. If you want to have a drink to-go, you should be able to have it to-go," Veronica Montilla of Washington Heights said. "If you're drinking responsibly, I don't see a reason why they should take it off."

Starting Thursday, patrons will no longer be able to get their alcohol drinks to-go from restaurants. NBC New York's Ida Siegal reports.

Nationwide, at least 15 states have made cocktails to-go permanent, while 12 states have extended to-go sales, according to Lisa Hawkins, spokesperson for the Distilled Spirits Council. She called New York legislators' failure to pass the bill “shocking and extremely disappointing” for the state's hard-hit hospitality industry.

Cuomo began lifting COVID-19 mandates in February, when New York was still seeing relatively high COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. In May, as the rate of new cases plummeted, he ended capacity-based restrictions for most businesses.

Last week, as New York achieved the governor's 70% partial adult vaccination milestone, Cuomo lifted rules that required many types of businesses to follow cleaning and health screening protocols and ensure customers had space to stay 6 feet apart.

An average of 326 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in New York in the seven-day period ending Tuesday, the lowest amount recorded since March 2020, data shows. Nearly 64% of New York adults are fully vaccinated, though rates vary widely by region, new ZIP code data released by Cuomo's office shows.

While core viral rates are now at at-time lows (New York state's rolling positivity rate has seen record lows for 27 consecutive days amid an 80-day stretch of decline), public health experts are still concerned about more contagious variants like delta.

Cuomo acknowledges the concerns, particularly for low vaccination rate neighborhoods, but says the overall picture is positive and it's time to move forward.

Copyright NBC New York/Associated Press
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