Governor Andrew Cuomo announced at today’s press conference that New York City restaurants can increase indoor dining capacity to 35 percent starting next Friday, February 26. The decision, as you surely know, comes a week after the city’s restaurants were allowed to reopen at one-quarter capacity.
COVID rates in New York City have continued to decrease, so “now’s the time to start doing more reopening,” said Cuomo, reiterating that if those numbers were to change, so would the policies. “This has been a constant calibration, by data, to what the virus is doing.” By data, New York City’s positivity rate — an average of 7.29 percent over the past seven days — is roughly double what it was the first time restaurants reopened, back in September, though at that point, overall cases in the city were still trending upward and now they’re trending down. This makes the city, as it has always aspired to be, “consistent with New Jersey.”
For reopening restaurants, every little bit helps, even if the difference between 25 and 35 percent is, in many cases, a single table — a restaurant that could seat ten people at 25 percent can now seat 14. The New York City Hospitality Alliance has been advocating for increasing capacity to 50 percent as soon as possible — the minimum they say restaurants would need to “continue treading water.” And it is true that cases are trending downward, even if, as Slate recently explained, we still don’t know exactly why that is.
At the same time, though, even those restaurant workers who have managed to get the first dose of the vaccine are still waiting on the second (given that they just qualified for it earlier this month), the vast majority of the general population hasn’t had a dose at all, and the impact of the new variants remains an open question. We still don’t know how much restaurants specifically contribute to the spread of the virus in the first place, but if last week’s 25 percent reopening were going to have an impact on the numbers, we wouldn’t necessarily have seen it yet.
In a New York Times op-ed this week, several members of the Biden transition team’s COVID-19 advisory board put forth an alternative suggestion: Keep everything closed and just pay people, as many, many people have been calling for since all this began. “Small business owners and their employees should not be forced to choose between their livelihoods and the nation’s public health,” they write. “The government needs to provide them with financial support, strictly conditioned on those businesses being closed to indoor service.” This would be lifesaving and business saving. In lieu of either: 35 percent.