NEW YORK — In a blow to the city’s struggling restaurateurs, all indoor dining will again be banned in New York City beginning Monday as infection rates and hospitalizations continue a seasonal surge.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the news Friday as part of a tweaked Covid-19 combat plan for the winter that takes into account new tracing data more clearly indicating where new cases are coming from.
“We said that we would watch it, if the hospitalization rate didn’t stabilize, we would close indoor dining. It has not,” Cuomo told reporters. “We’re going to close indoor dining on Monday. Outdoor dining and takeout continues.”
Indoor dining has been restricted to 25 percent capacity in New York City and 50 percent in the rest of the state. Cuomo had warned earlier this week that bars and restaurants could be further limited in New York City if hospitalization rates didn’t level out, citing a CDC alert that dining indoors was one of the key coronavirus spreaders.
Infection rates and hospitalizations are at concerning levels statewide — the state marked a 4.5 percent positivity rate and more than 5,300 hospitalizations Friday — but bars and restaurants elsewhere in the state will not see further restrictions at this point.
In a new breakdown of state contact tracing data from September through November, bars and restaurants were only responsible for the spread in 1.43 percent of New York’s new cases. The primary driver is in-home social gatherings at about 74 percent, according to the governor.
But Cuomo said the current rate of transmission in a place as dense as New York City justifies a stricter approach.
“In New York City you put the CDC caution on indoor dining together with the rate of transmission and the density and the crowding — that is a bad situation,” he said. “The hospitalizations have continued to increase in [the city].”
Major Bill de Blasio applauded the decision on Twitter.
“As Covid-19 indicators continue to rise, it’s time to shut down indoor dining. This is painful. So many restaurants are struggling. But we can’t allow this virus to reassert itself in our city,” he said. “I fully support Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision. Together we’ll fight back this second wave.”
But the city’s reeling restaurant industry said Cuomo was ignoring his own data in making a decision that could shutter even more city eateries during what would normally be one of their busiest seasons.
“While public health and safety must be paramount, Governor Cuomo’s announcement to once again shut down indoor dining in New York City is at odds with the State’s own data that’s been presented as driving these decisions, and it will be the last straw for countless more restaurants and jobs,” said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, in a statement. “The restrictions begin on Monday with zero economic support for small businesses that are already struggling to survive.”
Rigie pointed out that the Manhattan has more restaurants than anywhere in the state but has a positivity rate of 2.7 percent — less than half that of other areas where restaurants are still allowed to serve indoors.
The state is extending a commercial eviction moratorium, meaning restaurants that can’t pay rent due to new restrictions cannot be tossed on the street. In response to outcry from industry advocates, Cuomo said he thinks this is a reasonable, temporary fix because restaurants still have additional options and 25 percent capacity wasn’t that much anyway. If the state had any money to give small businesses he would offer it, he said, but it does not.
“I understand the economic hardship and, look, I suffer every lost dollar with these businesses. They have a deficit, yeah I understand that, and [New York state has] a deficit and we are living with the economic consequences also,” Cuomo said. “It’s not that I don’t understand or appreciate — literally every dollar a business loses, we lose a percentage of that dollar.”
Cuomo’s new contact tracing numbers will mean good news for other business owners. The governor also announced gyms and salons in identified orange zones, where they were previously were not allowed to operate, will be allowed to open with reduced capacity and more testing. Gyms are only responsible for 0.06 percent of infections and hair and personal care is responsible for 0.14 percent, according to the governor’s office.
Cuomo will be announcing new red, orange and yellow regions next week based on the weekend’s data, he said, and the qualifications for those are shifting slightly.
A red zone will mean a full economic shutdown and will be triggered if a region is 21 days from 90 percent hospital capacity. There are currently no red zones in New York, Cuomo said.
An orange zone is determined if the region has a 4 percent positivity rate over 10 days, if hospitals are expected to reach 85 percent capacity in 21 days or if the infection rates are growing at such dramatic levels that the state Department of Health determines the classification is necessary. A yellow zone can be triggered by a 3 percent positivity rate over 10 days.
The zone indications should be a warning for communities, Cuomo said, that it’s not somewhere else and it’s up to residents to take action.
“You can make a difference in your community and you have to take it seriously,” he said.
Amid the grim news for city restaurants, the first batch of vaccines are expected to arrive within days and the city and state are gearing up for distribution.
New York City will open a vaccine command center on Monday, de Blasio announced at his morning briefing. which will be designed as a “go-to location to make sure the vaccine distribution is fast and effective.”
The city is partnering with 200 community organizations to reach low-income people, public housing residents and communities of color — groups that were disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
“How we distribute this vaccine is part of righting those wrongs, and that means prioritizing the 27 neighborhoods of this city that bore the brunt of this crisis: Black communities, Latino communities, Asian communities that went through the very worst, and making sure that the folks in those communities who are most vulnerable get the vaccine early in the distribution,” the mayor said.
The city intends to host vaccination events at houses of worship, community centers and NYC Health + Hospitals clinics at NYC Housing Authority facilities to vaccinate New Yorkers.
The state laid out its own logistical plans earlier this week to distribute the first 170,000 doses from the federal government in the coming days, which will be prioritized for high-risk health care workers and the staff and residents of nursing homes. As future batches of the vaccine become available, essential workers and the general public will then have the opportunity to be inoculated.