NEW YORK — With the coronavirus spreading rapidly in other large states like California, Florida and Texas, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Wednesday that New York City would not resume indoor dining at restaurants next week as anticipated.
The decision to indefinitely delay indoor dining, which was made in conjunction with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, comes as New York officials are increasingly concerned that the increase in virus cases in more than 30 states could trickle back to New York, which has managed to rein in the outbreak.
“Indoors is the problem more and more,” said de Blasio, adding that “the news we have gotten from around the country gets worse and worse.”
“It is not the time to forge ahead with indoor dining,” he said.
At a news conference later Wednesday morning, Cuomo agreed that bringing back indoor dining in the city was “imprudent,” pointing to the rising rates of infection elsewhere that he said were “storm clouds on the horizon.”
Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, suggested that indoor dining could resume once more citizens complied with wearing masks and social distancing and when case numbers nationally stabilized.
But he chided de Blasio, a fellow Democrat but a regular political foe, and other local officials for not doing enough ensure that residents were abiding social distancing rules. “Citizen compliance is slipping,” he said.
“Local government has to step up and do their job,” he said, adding that “it’s much worse” in New York City.
The move to delay indoor dining came on the heels of a similar announcement by Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey to halt a planned restart of indoor dining that was to have gone into effect Thursday.
New York City is scheduled to enter into phase 3 of the state reopening plan Monday, which allows for restaurants and other establishments to serve patrons indoors under a series of occupancy and service restrictions.
On Tuesday, Cuomo announced that visitors from 16 states, including the nation’s three largest — California, Florida and Texas — would be required to quarantine for 14 days after arriving in New York, a move made in coordination with Murphy and Ned Lamont, governor of Connecticut.
Florida and Texas in particular have had to retrench in the face of surging cases after allowing bars and restaurants to reopen with some indoor seating.
And in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday ordered indoor operations at restaurants, bars, wineries and movie theaters to shut down in 19 counties, including Los Angeles, following a spike in cases and lax adherence to social distancing protocols.
Cuomo has said New York City, the most populous city in the nation, faces a unique set of challenges as it continues to gradually reopen. The city’s density, its mass transit system and its stature as a tourist destination could once again make the city a breeding ground for the virus, which has already killed more than 30,000 people in the state, with the vast majority of those victims in the city and its suburbs.
In mid-March, as the pandemic unfurled in New York and experts projected hospitals would be overwhelmed with tens of thousands of cases, officials shut down the city’s bars and restaurants.
While many of them remained open for pickup and deliveries, many shuttered indefinitely even as other pillars of the economy buckled, including Broadway theaters. Representatives of that industry announced Monday that Broadway would remain closed for the entirety of 2020.
On Wednesday, de Blasio said that the restriction in indoor dining was not permanent but would remain in place until “we have evidence that we can do it safely.”
The decision to restrict restaurants and bars in New York City to outdoor dining — which was allowed last week as part of phase 2 of reopening — would not affect other parts of the state, where indoor dining has already resumed.
The decision to bar indoor dining was likely to lead to more financial pain for the city’s eateries and an ongoing adaptation for customers now corralled in makeshift sidewalk dining rooms, though many restaurant-goers have come to enjoy the new outdoor accommodations. It could also disproportionately affect restaurants with no easy street-level access to set up outdoor dining.
Melissa Fleischut, president and chief executive of the New York State Restaurant Association, said the decision underscored the importance of increased regulatory flexibility to help restaurants stay afloat, noting the need to continue allowing bars to sell liquor in to-go cups. She also called for the expansion of the city’s “open streets” program to allow restaurants to accommodate tables on closed streets, something the mayor said he was considering Wednesday.
“I don’t know anybody who would have the capacity outdoors that they have indoors,” she said. “The sales are just not anywhere where they need to be to make restaurants profitable.”
Other states — including Illinois, Minnesota and Oregon — have allowed indoor dining with certain restrictions on capacity and distancing, like spacing tables at least 6 feet apart. In New York, regions that have entered phase 3 of reopening, which includes every part of the state except New York City, permit indoor dining with up to 50% capacity.
But in the past few days, Cuomo has homed in on mounting evidence that indoor spaces, especially those that are poorly ventilated or cramped, pose a higher risk for the virus’s transmission than outdoor spaces do. Cuomo has also said air conditioning could be helping spread the virus.
Earlier this week, he said that large malls wishing to reopen would need to implement specialized air conditioning filters capable of filtering out COVID-19 particles. He also encouraged businesses and office spaces to do the same.Heather C. Briccetti, president of the Business Council of New York State, said that the pause on reopening indoor dining rooms reemphasized the fragility of the state’s recovery — and the need for federal help for small businesses and the local governments that rely on their sales tax.
“I think it highlights the need for the feds to get their act together,” Briccetti said, adding that “local government has lost their shirts” in the crisis.
Briccetti added that the sudden change of plans for restaurants — some of whom had bought perishable food items in expectation of heavier demand next week — would add to their travails.
“It’s certainly not going to be welcome news for folks,” she said. “Everything feels so uncertain. And the one thing that businesses crave is certainty.”