What to Know
- Indoor dining can reopen in New York City at 25% capacity Sept. 30; the state will reassess whether capacity can be upped in early November
- Mandatory COVID precautions include temperature checks, no bar service and mask requirements; restaurants also have to ensure proper air filtration and make sure to get customers' numbers to assist contact tracing efforts
- Gov. Andrew Cuomo's announcement capped months of back-and-forth between the restaurant industry and government; NYC restaurants had filed a lawsuit against the state and city over the ban's ongoing cost to business
Mayor Bill de Blasio welcomed the imminent return of indoor dining in New York City Thursday, a day after the governor set the start date, but reminded New Yorkers in no uncertain terms that the strict regulations must be followed.
If the city's infection rate hits 2 percent over a seven-day rolling period (it hasn't done that since June), indoor dining may have to be paused while the city and state reevaluate, de Blasio said. That could indicate a dangerous trend.
"Our restaurant industry is a huge part of this city. It's part of our culture, it's part of our identity, it's part of what we love," de Blasio said Thursday. "As indoor dining starts to come back, it will come back with real limits, with careful inspections -- because we have to get it right. If we see a problem we're going to call it out."
The mayor's comments come on the heels of a new CDC report that found people who tested positive for COVID-19 in a number of states that have loosened restrictions (not New York) were about twice as likely to say they had dined out at a restaurant in the two weeks prior to getting sick. When the analysis was restricted to only those who tested COVID-positive without any other known exposure to a COVID-positive person, patients were also more likely to say they'd been to a bar or coffee shop. Notably, the CDC report did not distinguish between indoor and outdoor options. Dining out also wasn't isolated as a stand alone risk factor.
"Reports of exposures in restaurants have been linked to air circulation. Direction, ventilation, and intensity of airflow might affect virus transmission, even if social distancing measures and mask use are implemented according to current guidance," the report said. "Masks cannot be effectively worn while eating and drinking, whereas shopping and numerous other indoor activities do not preclude mask use."
The report had some limitations, the CDC acknowledged -- and the states where patients were assessed reopened earlier and with lesser restrictions than New York City. Of the 314 people evaluated, those who tested positive were also overwhelmingly more likely to have come into contact with a COVID-positive person. That said, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has noted new clusters emerged once indoor dining reopened in upstate New York, and expects the same in the city.
It was the state's call to bring back indoor dining in the city, but de Blasio has said he has worked closely with Cuomo's team on the logistics. Cuomo said Wednesday it could return in the five boroughs Sept. 30, but the reopening of dine-in for the first time in more than six months will come with a bevy of restrictions. He also Thursday he didn't believe a 2 percent-threshold to be the end all and be all of when restaurants should potentially re-close. He says it's a totality of factors -- and the state outlined a slew of rules intended to ensure those stay on its side.
Restaurants will be limited to 25 percent capacity, all customers will be required to wear masks (except when seated at their table) and submit to temperature checks, and one member of each party will have to give contact tracing information. There will be no bar service and restaurants must close by midnight — and the public will be asked to anonymously report violations by phone or text.
Eateries will also have to post their 25 percent capacity limit on their restaurants -- and Cuomo again urged New Yorkers Thursday to call that anonymous reporting number if they count heads and notice any violations.
The current outdoor dining plan is slated to end on Oct. 31, but de Blasio has said he might consider extending it. The following day, Nov. 1, is when the governor set the deadline to reassess the infection rate, which currently sits below 1 percent for the 34th straight day. If it is not rising at that time, indoor dining capacity might double to 50 percent. If there's a spike, it all could shut down immediately.
"If there's a spike, then bang — we can hit pause," Cuomo said. "We can always reassess the guidelines and 50 percent would be the next increase ... We'll just watch it and see what we hear and study the evidence."
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
Cuomo's announcement caps days of increasing clamor from restaurant owners, who said the state had little excuse to keep them closed when malls and casinos were open and when indoor dining was already available just miles away.
Cuomo had said the problem was compliance -- or in the city's case, a lack of enforcement of it. But he said Wednesday the city will contribute 400 personnel to an existing task force of the State Liquor Authority and state police to ensure compliance with the new orders -- a deal apparently hammered out not just with Mayor de Blasio, but with other city officials too.
"We have been talking to all stakeholders up until the moment I just walked out," Cuomo said at a Manhattan news conference, and added that customers will essentially have to to police themselves. "This is good news and the right step forward, especially for restaurant owners and staff who have been struggling through this time. But it is up to all of us to ensure compliance and the health and safety of those around us."
"New Yorkers will keep New York safe," he added.
De Blasio, who has been besieged by indoor dining questions during virtually ever recent press briefing, said Wednesday ahead of Cuomo's announcement that the concern comes down to more than enforcement. He spoke about evidence that shows indoor dining contributed to COVID surges in other states and countries.
Restaurant owners say their businesses have been down 70 percent since March and were outraged indoor dining had been available in neighboring parts of the state, as well as in New Jersey,. Many in the industry praised Cuomo's decision, and even more so are hopeful the capacity limit will be able to increase soon.
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
The enforcement issue isn't relevant only to restaurants. Cuomo said Thursday he has asked the MTA to develop an enforcement plan for mass transit. Masks are required across all MTA branches and Chairman Pat Foye says compliance is high. He wants to make it universal, he said on Cuomo's teleconference Thursday.
Starting Monday, failure to comply with mask directives on subways, buses, Long Island and Metro-North could be met with a $50 fine.