Restaurants in New York City and New Jersey can increase capacity for indoor dining to 50% by March 19, the states’ governors have announced – despite the states continuing to lead the nation in new coronavirus cases.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that his decision to expand dining in New York City was made in partnership with New Jersey Gov. Philip Murphy.
Both New York and New Jersey reported a seven-day average of 37 new COVID-19 cases daily for every 100,000 residents, The New York Times reported.
‘We will continue to follow the science and react accordingly,’ Cuomo said in a join statement by the Democratic governors.
It came just days after Cuomo announced that indoor dining in New York State – but not including the Big Apple – could increase from 50% to 75% on March 19.
New York City restaurants are currently allowed to provide indoor service at 35% capacity, up from 25% a few weeks ago.
The city’s dining establishments operated with limited indoor capacity for months, including a closure from December to February when cases rose.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks at a coronavirus vaccination site at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City on March 8
Empty tables stand at a restaurant in New York City’s Manhattan borough on March 1. The nation’s largest city and cultural capital is still suffering from a lack of tourists and workers who have not returned in large numbers since the pandemic outbreak. Hotels, businesses and restaurants are hoping vaccines and mass COVID-19 testing will lead to a return of customers by the summer
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, left, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, center, and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont attend a summit of Northeast governors in New York City
The change will take effect two days after St. Patrick’s Day, traditionally a busy day for restaurants and bars.
The increase in capacity will bring New York City and New Jersey in line with dining limits in neighboring Pennsylvania.
On March 19, indoor dining in neighboring Connecticut will increase to 100% capacity.
The new limit in New Jersey will also apply to casinos, salons and gyms.
New Jersey diners must continue to wear masks when not at tables, while bar seating remains prohibited.
The maximum number of people allowed at private indoor gatherings will increase from 10 to 25 people, while outdoor gathering capacity will rise from 25 to 50 people.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s tweet Wednesday announcing the new 50% indoor dining capacity in New York and New New Jersey restaurants
In a tweet posted Wednesday, Cuomo said, ‘@GovMurphy and I will work together to protect the public health.’
There were an average of 3,322 new cases of the virus reported each day over the last week in New Jersey and 7,177 in New York, fueled partly by new variants.
New Jersey was one of the last states to permit indoor dining to restart and Murphy faced pressure to expand the capacity limits.
‘We believe that when all factors are weighed, we can make this expansion without leading to undue further stress on our health care system,’ Murphy said.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy speaks after touring the New Jersey Convention and Exposition Center Covid-19 vaccination site in Edison on Jan. 15
Murphy last eased restrictions on indoor dining before the February 7 Super Bowl game, raising the capacity limit to 35% with a 10 p.m. curfew.
‘Unlike some states, which are prioritizing, frankly, flat-out politics over public health — Texas and Mississippi come to mind — our mask mandate remains in place,’ Murphy said.
A Texas statewide mandate requiring masks in public ended Wednesday. Mississippi eliminated its mask rules last week despite objections from federal health officials, who warned the step was premature during the ongoing global pandemic.
People wear face masks while dining outside at a restaurant on the Upper West Side in New York City on Feb. 13. Restaurants and bars still struggle to become profitable under evolving government restrictions and social distancing regulations
Researchers with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study Friday that found counties opening restaurants for on-premises dining, whether indoors or outside, experienced increased daily infections about six weeks later and an increase in Covid-19 death rates about two months afterward.
The study does not prove a cause and effect between a lack of masks and virus cases, but the findings match other research showing masks prevent infection and indoor spaces cultivate virus spread through tiny, airborne particles known as aerosols.
The New York City Hospitality Alliance praised the increase to 50% capacity.
Executive Director Andrew Rigie said Wednesday that the change is ‘welcome news to the battered restaurant industry’.
The restaurant industry was crippled by months of closures during lockdown while NYC was the epicenter of the global pandemic.
Restaurants were shuttered for months with indoor dining only reopening on September at 25 percent before closing again in December.
There was some additional relief for the industry this week when the Senate passed the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, including $28.6 billion for restaurants impacted by the pandemic.
Diners huddle with meals at an outdoor section of a restaurant in the Soho section of New York City on Feb. 11
New York City Hospitality Alliance Executive Director Andrew Rigie speaks about the plight of eateries during the coronavirus pandemic at Dirt Candy restaurant on Feb. 21