New York City’s teetering restaurants can reopen indoor dining at 25% capacity on Feb. 14, or Valentine’s Day, Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

The city’s daily rate of positive Covid-19 tests was 4.6% on Jan. 28, down from as high as 8.4% at the start of the month, state data show. All predictive models suggest improvement will continue, Cuomo said Friday at a virus press briefing.

Cuomo had closed indoor dining in the most populous U.S. city on Dec. 12, after cases surged with colder weather and holidays increasing social gatherings. Restaurants have struggled to stay in business with just takeout, delivery and outdoor dining amid the dead of winter. The governor’s 25% move isn’t enough, restaurateurs and industry groups said.

“The situation in NYC is dire and 25% is not going to cut it,” said Jeffrey Bank, chief executive officer of Alicart Restaurant Group, which includes Carmine’s and Virgil’s BBQ in New York City. “It’s like applying a band-aid to a gunshot wound or going to CityMD for open-heart surgery.”

Bank said he and other restaurant owners were frustrated by constantly changing rules that differ by location. “We are confused as to why in the rest of New York state many areas with higher infections rates have 50% indoor dining?” he said.

Two Weeks
The industry wants Cuomo to take greater steps at relieving the economic problems of the city’s restaurants and bars, where 140,000 jobs have been lost in the city, said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, an industry association. He said the rules are being applied inequitably against the city compared with the rest of the state.

“Restaurants are brokenhearted that they need to wait two weeks until Valentine’s Day to open at only 25% occupancy in the city, while permitting 50% occupancy in dining rooms around the rest of the state where infections and hospitalization rates from COVID-19 are higher,” Rigie said. “Restaurants in the city are ready to safely open now.”

Andrew Carmellini, co-owner of NoHo Hospitality, whose restaurants include Locanda Verde and the Dutch, called Cuomo’s decision “a joke.” He said, “you can go to New Jersey and Suffolk County and restaurants are full at 50% and have been all winter. Home Depot is packed. The folly of government has been on full display here.”

Cuomo, in response to restaurateurs’ criticism, said the state will ease restrictions if numbers continue to improve. “Look, 25% is better than zero, and that’s where we are now,” he said.

Surge Ends
Earlier this week, Cuomo said the state would begin to loosen restrictions amid an end of the post-holiday surge in Covid-19 cases. He allowed elective surgeries to resume in Erie County, lifted gathering restrictions in most hot spots across the state, and promised to announce a plan for New York City’s dining industry this week.

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