New York City’s reopening, which is still in its earliest stage, has already hit a snag. Over the weekend, scenes of unmasked New Yorkers crowding outside bars and restaurants in the East Village, Hell’s Kitchen, and Astoria provoked a warning from Governor Andrew Cuomo. On Sunday, Cuomo said that “reopenings” can be reversed if social-distancing rules are flaunted, that there have been 25,000 complaints of reopening violations, and that businesses stand to lose their liquor licenses.
In video of St. Marks Place taken on Friday by neighborhood blogger EV Grieve, people can be seen huddled together, drinking outside cheerfully, with barely anyone wearing masks. A similar video of 30th Avenue in Astoria, posted early Sunday morning, shows few wearing masks as well. On Friday, Gothamist also published photos of New Yorkers day-drinking, many of them not wearing masks. Masks have become a front in the culture war during the pandemic, despite evidence that they’re necessary to stop the spread of the coronavirus and to prevent a second spike in cases. (At a hair salon in Missouri, health officials found there were no new coronavirus cases even though two infected hairstylists served dozens of people.)
In typical fashion, the scenes led to a back-and-forth between the governor and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. In response, the mayor says the city is trying to balance the need for businesses to make money with safety, and a city hall spokesperson adds, “We don’t believe imprisoning people or taking away their livelihood is the answer.”
Business owners and others have been asking the mayor to open up streets to the public to prevent crowding on sidewalks and allow for more social distancing so that businesses can find a balance between needing to make money and ensuring the safety of their customers. One advocate for that plan has been the NYC Hospitality Alliance, whose executive director, Andrew Rigie, says in a statement, “The videos on the news and social media of outdoor dining and drinking sets our industry back.” Postponing the reopening will just lengthen the crisis, he says, and he reiterates his call for “a lawful, regulated outdoor eating and drinking system now” as well as “clear guidelines and expectations on when they can open outdoors and inside.”
Some will see this news about people drinking on St. Marks and say, “Well what about the protests?” Aside from the issues of masks and other preventive measures, there’s a false equivalency in comparing partying to the protests. So maybe it does need to be said that risking your own health to take a stand against systemic racism is not the same as wanting to drink a margarita on the sidewalk.