New York eating places may dine indoors once more on Valentine’s Day

A sign welcomes customers to indoor dining at a Brooklyn restaurant on December 1, 2020 in New York City.

Spencer Platt | Getty Images

New York City restaurants will be allowed to reopen for limited capacity indoor meals starting February 14, as long as Covid-19 cases remain stable, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Friday.

From Valentine’s Day, New York restaurants will be allowed to reopen their indoor restaurants with a 25% capacity. The roughly two-week deadline will allow restaurants to alert their staff and order additional supplies, Cuomo said.

The city’s restaurants have been instructed to close their indoor spaces from December 14, amid an increase in Covid-19 cases that is expected to worsen over the holiday season. For weeks, restaurants have only been able to cater to takeaway and delivery customers, and offer outdoor seating.

However, the Democratic governor has repeatedly stated this week that the coronavirus outbreak appears to be over after the state holidays, allowing businesses to slowly reopen across New York. The rate of positivity in New York City, or the percentage of all Covid-19 tests rated positive, has fallen from a high of 7.1% on January 5 to just under 5% on January 28, according to the governor.

“All models assume that this number will continue to decrease,” said Cuomo at a press conference in Albany.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told CNBC’s “The Exchange” after the governor announced that “some work is needed” to ensure restaurants are safe and ready to resume their dining areas before Valentine’s Day to open.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, eating inside may pose a higher risk of infection as people interact with each other for long periods of time and remove their masks to eat or drink. However, this risk can be reduced if a restaurant frequently disinfects surfaces and, among other things, people wash their hands and wear their masks as often as possible.

“I think it’s great that our restaurants have returned, but we need strict protocols and regular inspections to make sure people are safe,” de Blasio told CNBC.

Some industry experts were concerned that 25% indoor dining capacity may not be enough to keep restaurants afloat. Other restaurants across New York outside of the city are allowed to operate at 50% capacity, and state standards “are being applied unevenly across the five boroughs without a transparent and data-driven system to further reopen the city’s restaurant economy,” said Andrew Rigie. Executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance said in a statement.

“Look, 25% is better than zero, and there we are now,” Cuomo said at a press conference. “If the numbers keep getting better, that number will go up.”

The governor also outlined a plan that will allow some venues to reopen for wedding ceremonies. Starting March 15, people can hold a wedding if all attendees are tested before the event and organizers get approval from their local health department.

The venues are limited to 50% or 150 people. The state is adding faster Covid-19 testing capacity and developing an app that will help with contact tracking, Cuomo said.

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