New York City restaurants will be allowed to reopen their indoor dining areas at 25% capacity beginning Sept. 30, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday.
Restaurants, which have been staying afloat over the summer through takeout and outdoor dining services, will be required to take customers' temperatures at the door, enforce mask wearing and social distancing rules. They also must close at midnight and can't offer seats at a bar but can still serve alcohol to tables, he said.
Aside from outdoor dining and takeout, the city's restaurants and bars have been closed since mid-March as New Yorkers sheltered in place to prevent further spread of the coronavirus tearing through its hospitals. Even as cases began to decline in New York over the summer, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Cuomo postponed reopening restaurants for indoor dining in early July as other states across the country reported growing outbreaks.
"We have seen clusters outbreak from restaurants, so that was the reason for caution," Cuomo said at a press conference in Albany. "We've been working on this issue every day and, we're now announcing today that we can go to 25% of indoor dining with certain restrictions that will be enacted on Sept. 30."
In recent weeks, the governor has allowed the city's malls, gyms and museums to reopen with limited capacity but has held back on reopening restaurants for indoor dining services, even though other parts of the state were allowed to serve customers inside at 50% capacity.
Cuomo has repeatedly criticized city officials for not enforcing social distancing rules for outdoor dining services, citing that as part of the reason for the delay. Last week, he called on the New York Police Department and the New York State Restaurant Association, which has pushed for indoor dining in the city, to create a plan or a task force that would effectively allow restaurants to reopen while enforcing the governor's rules.
"I understand the economic pressure they've been under. A restaurant is not just the restaurant owner, a restaurant is the kitchen staff, the wait staff, there's a whole industry around restaurants," he said.
Cuomo estimated that 10,000 establishments will need to be inspected to ensure they're following the state's Covid-19 health precautions. The state plans to expand its current task force, which includes the State Liquor Authority. New York City will also provide an additional 400 inspectors to work alongside the task force, he said.
The governor warned, however, that even with increased enforcement, everyday New Yorkers will be held responsible for aiding the state's effort. Restaurants will be required to post a phone number customers can call or text to report violations to the task force, he said.
"I believe in New Yorkers' ability to do the right thing. That's not blind faith," Cuomo said. "New Yorkers I think are more informed about Covid than anyone in the country."
New York has reported an infection rate below 1% for 33 straight days — well below the 5% goal recommended by the World Health Organization for reopening. Cuomo has warned, however, that the state is now in a "post-Labor Day phase" where the flu season threatens to complicate its Covid-19 response.
If reopening indoor dining goes well, and there's not a significant increase in the state's infection rate, New York City restaurants could be allowed to reopen at 50% capacity, he said, adding that the state will make that decision by Nov. 1.
"If there is a spike in the infection rate, then we can always hit the emergency pause button. We can do that at any time," Cuomo said.