Editorial | Time for trial and error?

Govenor Andrew Cuomo arrives at William Reid Houses for press conference on Jan. 23, 2021.
File photo/Lloyd Mitchell

In New York City, 10% is an insufficient tip for a server or bartender. Is Governor Cuomo’s announcement to raise indoor dining capacities from 25% to 35% an insufficient action?
In asking this question we are not suggesting dramatic overnight action with a 50% cap, Broadway restaurants rammed and the return of happy hour.
Cuomo says he follows the data. This 10% bump actually makes early-February’s 150 guest wedding permission seem even a little reckless—even with the stringent protocols the state demands for these occasions.
Yes, infection rates have dropped to less than 3% in NYC since the end of November. Yes hospitals are operating at a 31% capacity.
Let us also not forget that this virus is unpredictable: one minute there is hope (vaccine rollouts and Wall Street rebounds); one minute there is despair (mutating strains).
The question is: is increasing indoor dining 10% until New Yorkers are safely vaccinated a sensible strategy that will help New York City’s struggling restaurants in any more than a minimal way? After all, we’ve only begun vaccinating people since mid-December. We have a long way to go, and many young and healthy individuals continue to avoid restaurants, bars, gyms, mass transit and any kind of crowded locations.
Will it make a meaningful financial difference at all? Or could the coin flip the other way?
This extra 10% gives restaurant owners choices to try and claw back at least some of their COVID loses, and lord knows they deserve these opportunities.
But we are living in the unknown financially, culturally, medically and psychologically.
The effects of the mutated strains first detected in South Africa and the UK have been catastrophic.
The UK is back in March-era lockdown and although we don’t know much about the strain yet, the CDC has confirmed that it is 50% more contagious—although the medical jury is still out on whether or not it is more deadly.
So far, New York seems untouched, to an extent. Only two patients have been identified as infected with the strain: a Nassau man on Sunday 21 and a Connecticut individual earlier this month.
But let’s not forget that brutal COVID-19 hallmark: lengthy asymptomatic incubation periods. We are not untouchable and the CDC expects the mutation infection rates of the new strain to double each week until it becomes dominant.
We’re in a race against time with the rollout. We will beat this virus.
But is now really the time to experiment, and is 10% in lives or dollars really worth it?