What to Know
- New York City has joined New Jersey in shelving indoor dining indefinitely as bar- and restaurant-linked COVID cases surge across the nation
- Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the reasons for the delay are primarily New York City-specific issues; the rest of the state has already resumed indoor dining and will be permitted to continue it
- The list of tri-state quarantine-restricted states is 16: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah
New York City will postpone indoor dining indefinitely, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday, citing soaring infection rates tied to bars and restaurants in a growing number of U.S. states. New Jersey made the same decision earlier this week.
De Blasio said "now is not the time to forge ahead" with indoor dining in the five boroughs. That had been slated to return Monday when the city enters Phase III of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's reopening strategy. The city will still transition to the third phase Monday absent indoor dining, resuming personal care services and more outdoor recreation, from tennis and basketball to Bocce.
"Indoors is the problem. The science is showing it more and more. We cannot go ahead at this point in time with indoor dining in New York City," de Blasio said Wednesday. "Even a week ago, honestly, I was hopeful we could. But the news we have gotten from around the country gets worse and worse all the time."
The mayor said he would work with Cuomo's office to determine the best way to move forward with indoor dining when the time is appropriate.
The governor didn't indicate when that might be, saying only, "Indoor dining in NYC will be postponed until the facts change and it is safe and prudent."
The rest of New York state has already resumed indoor dining. Cuomo said Wednesday indoor dining would continue in the state's other nine regions, adding the issues that led to the delay in New York City are primarily city-specific issues. Seven regions have already moved into the fourth and final phase of Cuomo's reopening plan, with the Capital Region the latest to do so Wednesday.
"Everything else is going to continue, everything else is continuing all across the state," Cuomo said Wednesday. "This is a New York City-only modification because frankly, it is a problem that is most pronounced in New York City.”
The city hasn't seen any significant infection spikes tied to its reopening thus far - it tests tens of thousands of people daily and has a seven-day rolling positivity average of just 1 percent. But Cuomo warned Wednesday, "I see storm clouds on the horizon."
"Citizen compliance is slipping. Government is supposed to be enforcing compliance. That is not happening to a sufficient basis," he said. "This is not over. This can still rear its ugly head anywhere in this nation and in this state."
Cuomo said the state would create its own enforcement department to supplement local efforts, but noted that assistance could stretch only so far.
The governor initially raised the red flag on indoor dining earlier this week, saying he worries about lack of New Yorkers' compliance with social distancing, face coverings and other COVID safety protocol. That non-compliance combined with reports that dining in enclosed indoor areas with air-conditioning systems heightens risk, "is a real problem," the governor said Wednesday.
One bar outside Michigan State University in East Lansing, for example, has been linked to at least 85 new COVID infections. In Florida, 16 friends all tested positive for COVID after a night out during the state's early reopening.
Cuomo's concern about ventilation transcends indoor dining; he has yet to set any reopening timeline for malls, theaters or gyms because of similar worries. Whenever New York malls are able to reopen, they'll have to first install certain filtration systems to ensure the virus doesn't recirculate in the enclosed air.
Cuomo says these are lessons learned from looser reopenings of other U.S. states, some of which are shattering new daily COVID case records multiple times a week. He blames President Trump, accusing him of pushing uninformed reopenings amid an overwhelming drive to reboot the starved national economy.
"He denied the reality of the virus," Cuomo said Wednesday. "You know what, Mr. President? Reality wins, every time. Now the country is suffering because of the president. It's time for him to change course. Admit you were wrong."
The situation has grown so dire that Dr. Anthony Fauci, America's top infectious disease expert, told the Senate Tuesday he could see new daily U.S. cases soar to 100,000 new cases a day, a striking increase from the already record-breaking daily totals in the 40,000s, if current infection rates hold.
Scrambling to curb the spread as the CDC warns it may already be beyond control, more and more states, from Texas to Arizona to Pennsylvania and California, are rolling back some reopenings or pausing the process entirely.
Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy are reevaluating their overarching reopening strategies in light of other states' reopening struggles. Indoor dining was the first domino to fall. Will it be the last? That remains to be seen.
Daily Percentage of Positive Tests by New York Region
Gov. Andrew Cuomo breaks the state into 10 regions for testing purposes and tracks positivity rates to identify potential hotspots. Here's the latest tracking data by region and for the five boroughs. For the latest county-level results statewide, click here
Murphy shelved dine-in indefinitely in New Jersey, just three days before it was set to resume in his state, albeit it at 25 percent capacity. He cited similar concerns as Cuomo in his decision. No new reopening date has been set.
With indoor dining off the table for now in the city, de Blasio said he'd double down on al fresco. He has continued to focus on his robust Open Restaurants initiative, which leverages curbs, sidewalks, parking spaces and more to provide establishments additional temporary space for outdoor eating. More than 6,500 restaurants have already applied for permits to participate in that program.
“Outdoor dining unquestionably has been a great hit,” de Blasio said. “And I think the bottom line is that outdoors is working, period. This is one of the things we’ve learned. Outdoors is where we need to be to the maximum extent possible this summer as we fight back this disease.”
Melissa Fleischut, the president of the New York State Restaurant Association, said she understands the need to prioritize safety, but “the chances of restoring New York City as the restaurant capital of the world withers away” the longer indoor dining is delayed. She said the association “will continue to work in partnership with the community and law enforcement to restore indoor dining in New York City as soon as possible.”
Meanwhile, the city's incremental reopening continues to move forward. On Wednesday, the five boroughs' 14 miles of public beaches reopened for swimming for the first time this year, providing much-needed relief to New Yorkers who've largely been shunned from out-of-city shores as some towns restricted theirs to locals only. (Watch out for sharks in the Rockaways.)
In other positive news: the city confirmed late Tuesday it would reopen as many as 15 public pools by Aug. 1, also for the first time this year. Find the initial list of pools the city plans to open here.
Under the current rules, large gatherings of people are still banned in New York City, but retail stores have been allowed to welcome customers back inside and offices have reopened to workers with some social distancing rules in place.
While New Jersey won't reopen indoor dining as scheduled Thursday, it will still allow amusement parks, boardwalk rides and playgrounds to return that day. Casinos are also permitted to reopen Thursday at 25 percent capacity, though given the indefinite postponement of indoor dining and a new smoking ban, more than a handful may opt to delay their returns. Several have done so already.
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
New Jersey is one of only four states -- alongside New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts -- that Covid Act Now, a volunteer-led web-based initiative to model COVID-19 data of the United States under different scenarios, says are on track to containing COVID-19, Murphy said.
However, New Jersey officials are quick to point out that the effort to contain the virus continues and New Jerseyans must remain cautious and avoid any sense of false security particularly since there is a spike in the transmission of the virus across various states nationwide.
New York, which once had the highest COVID transmission rate in America and now boasts the lowest, and New Jersey, the second-most impacted state, are painfully aware of the need to maintain their progress as more than 30 states wage war on the virus anew. Those states, along with Connecticut, jointly imposed a quarantine order last week that requires travelers to self-isolate for 14 days if coming to the tri-state area from states where the seven-day rolling average of positive tests or positive cases exceed a certain threshold.
The number of states on that restricted list doubled Tuesday to 16: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah. Violators of the executive order may face heavy fines.