NEW YORK – Indoor dining at New York City restaurants will be banned again in an effort to halt the coronavirus resurgence, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday in an announcement that could foretell a grim winter for one of the city's most important industries.
As of Monday, only takeout orders and outdoor dining will be allowed in the city, one of the world's great cuisine capitals, the governor said at a news conference in Albany.
The Democrat had been hinting at a clampdown on indoor dining for a week, saying he was waiting to see if hospitalization rates stabilized. They have not. Nearly 1,700 patients are now hospitalized in the city with COVID-19 infections, triple the number a month ago.
Cuomo said that despite the economic pain to the city's roughly 24,000 restaurants and their legions of workers, he needed to act.
“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, adding that the shutdown will be evaluated again after two weeks.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he supported Cuomo's decision.
“This is painful. So many restaurants are struggling. But we can’t allow this virus to reassert itself in our city," the Democratic mayor said on Twitter.
At ilili, a spacious Lebanese-Mediterranean restaurant in Manhattan, owner Philippe Massoud said the indoor dining shutdown will likely shrink revenues to 8% to 15% of normal in the best-case scenario.
“It’s going to be very, very difficult,” said Massoud, who’s originally from Lebanon. “I lived through 14 years of civil war, so it’s going to take a lot to extinguish me. But this is very trying.”
The restaurant is attempting to make up for lost business by venturing into selling meal kits and retail food items, such as cheese and flatbreads. But Massoud worried that another shutdown may make New York City untenable for restaurant workers who are suffering financially, and for customers questioning whether the Big Apple is worth it.
“If you can’t eat out in the city and you can’t have a semblance of life, why are you going to be in the city?” he wonders. “When social life and dining-out life is extinguished in the city, it’s no longer a city.”
The governor’s order came despite opposition from the beleaguered restaurant industry, which warned of holiday season layoffs at a time when the federal government has yet to pass additional COVID-19 relief.
The order is a “huge blow," said Melissa Fleischut, president and CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association.
“This action will inevitably result in massive layoffs and vast closures right before the holidays," she said in a statement, adding that is was “unfair and devastating.”
“It will be the last straw for countless more restaurants and jobs," said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance. “The restrictions begin on Monday with zero economic support for small businesses that are already struggling to survive."
Cuomo acknowledged the hardship restaurants were facing, but said, “It’s in everyone’s interest to get the virus under control, don’t overwhelm the hospitals, don’t overwhelm the positivity rate."
“If we don’t slow the spread and we overwhelm the hospital system — we get to a red zone... then every restaurant goes to zero indoor, outdoor zero. That’s the worst-case scenario," he added.
The decision comes as wintry weather has started to arrive in New York City, where the outdoor dining setups on sidewalks and in tents on the street are likely to be far less popular amid icy winds and, sometimes, blowing snow.
Public health experts have repeatedly warned that indoor dining — particularly in small, crowded restaurants where individuals are drinking and can take off masks when not eating — poses a risk for airborne transmission. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently described such indoor dining as “high risk.”
Other places have also clamped down, like Pennsylvania, which announced Thursday that indoor dining would be banned starting this weekend.
New York's restaurants have been in trouble since the state closed nonessential businesses in March, which forced restaurants to rely on takeout and delivery.
As that shutdown was gradually lifted for many types of businesses, restaurants remained restricted. The state began allowing indoor dining in some regions outside of New York City in June, and Cuomo allowed indoor dining at 25% capacity in the city Sept. 30. In other parts of the state, restaurants are allowed to have half their tables filled.
Cuomo said he's considering restrictions in other parts of the state, but didn't announce any changes Friday. The spread of the virus in New York City has actually been lower than in many other parts of the state where restaurants remain less restricted.
Cuomo said New York City's density made it different than other parts of the state.
Critics pointed to Cuomo's repeated statements that small gatherings and “living room spread” appears to be fueling the second wave of virus infections. But the governor's administration has acknowledged that New York is unable to identify a single source of transmission for about 80% of cases in late fall.
Associated Press writers Jennifer Peltz and Michael R. Sisak contributed to this report.