indoor dining

Indoor Dining, Movies Return in NJ Friday; Cuomo Admits Quandary But Says NYC Isn't Ready Yet

New Jersey will allow indoor dining to resume at 25% capacity statewide starting Friday; movie theaters can also reopen the same day at the same capacity (or 150 people, whichever is lower)

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What to Know

  • New Jersey restaurants can resume indoor dining and movie theaters can reopen statewide on Friday, Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday; capacity is capped at 25% and social distancing, among other precautions, is required
  • NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the state is evaluating data daily as far as reopening NYC indoor dining, casinos and state movie theaters; he says he's not quite ready to reopen dine-in in the five boroughs quite yet
  • The New York governor said flu season is approaching as well as Labor Day; he also wants to see how the back-to-school process shakes out

New Jersey restaurants can resume indoor dining statewide starting this Friday and movie theathers can reopen, just in time for Labor Day weekend, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo acknowledged that will translate to a "competitive disadvantage" for the five boroughs, where dine-in and movie theaters are still closed.

But he's not ready to bring either back in NYC quite yet. The rest of the state has been doing indoor dining for some time, and Cuomo said Monday he knows New York City residents will travel across the river to get their first taste of dine-in in months. (Murphy's announcement on movies followed Cuomo's tele-briefing.)

"I understand that means people can go through the tunnel and go over the George Washington Bridge," the governor told reporters on a conference call Monday. "I am aware of that competitive disadvantage for New York City restaurants."

Cuomo said he wanted to monitor the looming Labor Day and flu season factors, as well as the all-encompassing return-to-school factor, before he made a decision on when indoor dining might reopen in New York City. He also is concerned about who will ensure compliance with capacity limitations.

Daily Percentage of Positive Tests by New York Region

With all of New York state in some phase of reopening, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is shifting his focus to monitoring test results on a daily basis across each region to identify potential hotspots before they emerge. Here's the latest tracking data by region. For the latest county-level results statewide, click here

Source: ny.gov

"It is something we are watching, and we are considering," Cuomo said. "I want as much economic activity as quickly as possible. We also want to make sure the transmission rate stays under control. That is the tension. We're trying to find the balance, and we're calibrating every day. By law, it is a state decision."

The pressure is mounting. In New Jersey, precautions include a 25 percent capacity cap and a mandatory 6 feet of space -- at minimum -- to start. Staff must wear facial coverings at all times; patrons must as well when unseated. And people are only allowed to consume food and beverages at their tables.

Restaurants that provide food service at the bar can do so provided they ensure social distancing. Any group seated at the bar is limited to four people. Strict ventilation requirements also apply. Windows must be open, for example, to ensure proper flow of fresh air. It wasn't clear how winter could impact that.

"Our goal is to ensure this step is done properly to prevent the kind of spikes we saw in other states," Murphy said at his daily briefing later Monday. He also said that the state could shut down inside dining at any time if they see a "sustained increase" in cases.

The governor dropped the movie theater reopening at his briefing, hours after announcing the return of indoor dining: Those and indoor performance venues can reopen Friday at 25 percent capacity or limited to 150 people, whichever number is lower. The definition of "indoor performance venues" wasn't immediately clear - whether it included nightclubs or other such businesses.

Monday's long-awaited announcement on indoor dining came more than a month after it was supposed to start in the Garden State. Murphy postponed it indefinitely, citing heightened concerns about increased infection risk in enclosed spaces like restaurants and gyms. He gave the go ahead on gyms last week.

Following Mayor De Blasio's announcement that there are still no plans to open restaurants for indoor dining, many restaurant owners are speaking out and voicing their concerns over staying in business in the long-term, noting that outdoor dining is not sustainable, particularly as colder weather approaches, Adam Kuperstein has the latest from Lower Manhattan

Michele Siekerka, the president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, said Murphy's Monday announcement on indoor dining was “unfortunately long overdue."

She was among those who criticized the abrupt decision to shelve it before the July 4 holiday, saying the state's businesses lost out on the “prime summer season," losing patrons to open restaurants in Pennsylvania and Delaware.

Jack Ciattarelli, a former member of the Assembly, is running for the GOP nomination for governor to take on Murphy next year. He also called the decision long overdue and said if health conditions permit, then capacity should be increased incrementally, rising to 50 percent by November.

While the decision was essentially praised by those in the restaurant business as a welcome one, there are still some concerns — staffing being chief among them. During the booming summer with outdoor dining, finding staff was hard enough as workers worried about catching COVID. One the business side of things, some establishments that are inside-only may still have to wait to open.

"Can they afford to hire people if they're only getting 25 percent (of customers), and they don't have outside dining to supplement it?" asked restaurant owner Tim McLoone. "If it gets to 50 percent, we feel that's sustainable in the winter because how often during the winter are our places at 50 percent."

New York City postponed indoor dining indefinitely around the same time as New Jersey did. No timeline has been set for its return but Cuomo said last week that decision -- along with reopening decisions on movie theaters and casinos in the state -- was under "daily" evaluation.

Minutes before he said that, Cuomo noted the business compliance in New York City had significantly improved in recent weeks, which could indicate an announcement on indoor dining sooner rather than later.

Cuomo didn't give any indication when he might make or announce a decision -- he described it all as a "fluid" situation -- but the last few days mark the first time in more than a month that he is commending NYC for improved compliance rates rather than condemning it for the opposite. On Sunday, state officials observed 1,000 establishments and issued just five violations -- but as Cuomo reminded New Yorkers the next morning, one outlier business can ruin it for everyone.

A driver crashed into an outdoor dining area at a cafe in Brooklyn and then drove away. NBC New York's Adam Harding reports.

Each of the five establishments cited in New York Sunday night were in Queens, Cuomo said. Meanwhile, indoor dining, along with malls, in New York City remain the last major business sectors shut down.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday that he's still hoping for a situation (like a vaccine, or even lower positivity rates) that would allow for indoor dining to resume.

"I do expect and pray for a vaccine in the spring that will allow us all to get more back to normal," de Blasio said. "But I would absolutely tell you, we're going to keep looking for that situation where we could push down the virus enough where we would have more ability to address indoor dining."

Some restaurant owners in the city are growing fearful after some of the mayor's comments hinted that dining rooms could be closed until Spring 2021.

"Why is it OK to eat indoors in Nassau County, but 100 yards down the block it's not OK in Queens? Same for Westchester County and the Bronx. It's just starting not to make sense," said Andrew Rigie of the NYC Hospitality Alliance. The group believes that thousands of restaurants have already closed because of the pandemic, and that's just a tip of the iceberg.

New York and New Jersey, with the exception of a few weeks for the latter, have maintained low virus rates amid their phased reopenings. New York state hit 24 straight days of a daily COVID test positivity rate below 1 percent on Monday and reported its lowest number of total hospitalizations since the pandemic hit. One New Yorker died of COVID, the lowest single-day death toll in months, as well. Even the city has consistently seen daily positivity rates of 1 percent or below.

"No experts believed we would be that successful," Cuomo said Monday. "And I talked to all of them. New Yorkers have saved tens of thousands of lives."

Copyright NBC New York/Associated Press
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