Cuomo says indoor dining could resume with an NYPD task force enforcing COVID-19 rules

September 3, 2020

St. Marks Place outdoor dining; Photo by Eden, Janine and Jim on Flickr

Indoor dining could resume in New York City only if police are able to enforce compliance of coronavirus regulations at restaurants, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday. During a call with reporters, the governor said he could allow restaurants to open for indoor dining if the city creates a task force of NYPD officers designated to oversee compliance. Cuomo said he plans to discuss the issue with City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who on Wednesday called for an immediate start of indoor dining, which has been allowed in every region in the state except the five boroughs.

“I’d like to see the restaurants open, however, there’s a but,” Cuomo said on Thursday. “The but is the rules and guidance on reopening is only as good as the compliance and the enforcement.”

Earlier this summer, Cuomo put together a multi-agency task force of investigators led by the State Liquor Authority to find violations of coronavirus-related regulations at bars and restaurants across the state. According to the governor, there have been “major problems” with compliance at establishments in New York City and a lapse in enforcement from city agencies.

“I’m going to say to the restaurant association that desperately wants to open, and I understand the economic pressure, can you tell me how we’re going to enforce it? How we’re going to monitor compliance? Because the facts on what happened on bars are damning,” Cuomo said.

The governor said there needs to be a compliance plan before indoor dining can reopen, which is “only as good as your ability to enforce it.” Cuomo said he’ll tell Johnson to put together a task force of “4,000 police that will be doing restaurant compliance.”

The city was set to resume indoor dining at 50 percent capacity on July 6, but Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio put it on hold indefinitely, blaming the spike in coronavirus cases in other states. The city’s Open Restaurants program has allowed roughly 10,000 establishments to set up seating outdoors to serve customers, but that program is scheduled to end on October 31.

The pressure to allow indoor dining in NYC continues to mount, especially with positive rates of the coronavirus consistently low citywide and the unemployment rate at around 20 percent. Plus, a group of over 300 restaurants filed a lawsuit against the city and state this week over the indoor dining ban and New Jersey plans to reopen indoor dining at restaurants on Friday.

“It’s time to allow indoor dining in New York City with reduced capacity and clear guidance to ensure social distancing and safety,” Johnson said in a statement on Wednesday. “This is crucial for restaurant owners, who have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic and the resulting drop in tourism.”

“Summer is winding down, and they need to begin planning for the colder months. Of course, we will continue to monitor the City’s COVID-19 rates, just as we must for all of our businesses. We know that the restaurant industry employs many New Yorkers, including many immigrants. Its health and well-being are imperative to our City.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio this week said a decision on indoor dining could come this month, as Eater New York reported. He also has said his administration continues “to look at the indoor question,” but added indoor dining could depend on how well the reopening of schools goes on September 21.

“I think it’s our responsibility to give them as clear an answer, in the month of September, as possible of where we’re going,” de Blasio said during a press briefing on Thursday, regarding restaurants’ demands for indoor dining to resume. “If there can be a timeline, if there can be a set of standards for reopening, we need to decide that in the next few weeks and announce it, whether it’s good news or bad news.”

According to City Comptroller Scott Stringer, at least 2,800 small businesses in NYC closed permanently between March 1 and July 10, which includes 1,289 restaurants and 844 retail stores.

The New York City Hospitality Alliance has pushed for the city and state to develop a plan for restaurants to reopen for indoor dining.

“Restaurants across New York City have been financially devasted for six months since the start of the pandemic,” Andrew Rigie, executive director of the Alliance, said in a statement in response to Johnson’s demand for indoor dining.

“With New Jersey resuming indoor dining on Friday and restaurants elsewhere across New York state having safely served customers indoors for months, the NYC Hospitality Alliance, restaurant owners from across the five boroughs, industry leaders, members of the State Senate, City Council and now Speaker Johnson have all called for an immediate plan to resume indoor dining.”


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