City Hall must step up enforcement before NYC gets indoor dining back: Cuomo

Photo via Flickr/Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Office

Unless the city government steps up on COVID-19 regulation compliance, indoor dining won’t be happening in New York City anytime soon, Governor Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday.

Cuomo told reporters on Sept. 8 that he is well aware of the economic pain that restaurants are facing in New York City. Cuomo cited that when New York had reopened bars and restaurants upstate, it caused a number of issues around compliance and enforcing the reopening guidelines.

“We opened bars, and it turned out to be a nightmare. There were many violations, and there was very little ability to police the violations, to enforce the compliance,” said Cuomo. “I talked about this every day for two months. I beseeched the local governments to help — they didn’t. We then put together the state SLA (State Liquor Authority)/state police task force and did local bar enforcement.”

With this task force, Cuomo states that there were around 5,000 visits to restaurants and bars in the past couple of days, but that is where this task force caps out.

“That is the maximum capacity for the state task force. If you now increase indoor dining, you are going to have to have a compliance and enforcement function. If you go to indoor dining, you’re roughly doubling the number of places that you’re going to have to monitor,” Cuomo said. “There will be another 10,000 establishments in New York City that could do indoor dining. You know you had a bad experience with bars. You know that you’re at your maximum in terms of enforcement capacity. You’re now going to double the number of est that you need to monitor. How do you do that? That’s the conundrum you face.”

According to Cuomo, there is still an inherent risk of reopening bars and restaurants for indoor dining in New York City, citing experiences in upstate New York that led to clusters of COVID-19 outbreaks in areas where restaurants reopened. Cuomo said that in order to open restaurants for indoor dining, local governments need to help with compliance issues. 

“It could be a local police department or local health inspectors. This is not vis-a-vis the public. It’s vis-a-vis the establishment owner. If you are in a restaurant and let’s say the indoor dining capacity is 25%. If you’re there and it’s exceeding 25%, you’re not out of compliance — the restaurant owner is out of compliance,” said Cuomo. “It would be negligent and reckless to open indoor dining knowing that you have issues in upstate New York, knowing that compliance is going to be a problem and knowing that you don’t have an enforcement mechanism.”

That being said, Cuomo still believes that local governments could help the state accomplish the goal of expanding indoor dining and that New York’s strategy for reopening is working. Cuomo also stated that he would like to see indoor dining reopen in New York City if the compliance issues are handled better.

Cuomo told reporters that he understands that shutting down bars and restaurants for violating reopening procedures is unpopular, but it needs to be done. When asked about why Long Island was able to have indoor dining and New York City could not, Cuomo said that Long Island is doing better at compliance than New York City.

“We just went through this on bars. How many times did I sit here and say we need local governments to do bar enforcement? What happened? Nothing,” said Cuomo. “What wound up happening? I had to put a task force together to do it. I am stretched on that task force. I can’t increase that task force to do double with the number of restaurants.”

“Careful public health guidance. Nimble and rigorous inspections. Fair and honest dealing with businesses. That’s how we’ve reopened our economy while keeping COVID-19 rates extremely low, and that’s how we’ll reopen indoor dining if and when it’s safe to do so,” said Mitch Schwartz, Director of Rapid Response + Deputy Press Secretary for Mayor de Blasio’s office. “Now, we’re continuing to work with the State on a responsible timeline and clear protocols for re-opening. That process is underway – and when it’s over, New Yorkers will know we’ve put their health and safety first.”

Updated at 4:48 p.m.