Less than a week after state officials announced that restaurants could expand to 75 percent indoor capacity this month, a full indoor dining comeback is now on the horizon. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday that restaurants, bars, and other businesses can reopen at full capacity starting on May 19.
It’s far from a return to normal for restaurant and bar owners. Even at 100 percent capacity, other coronavirus precautions will remain in place for the time being, including mask wearing and social distancing. Operators must either seat diners at least six feet apart, in adherence to federal guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or tables must be separated by physical barriers.
“If the CDC changes their guidance, then we’ll change our guidance,” Cuomo said in a press conference on Monday. However, if a restaurant requires its customers to be fully vaccinated, or show a negative COVID-19 test, then it does not need to follow the social distancing requirements for patrons, Cuomo said.
Twenty-four-hour subway service, a sticking point for some restaurant and bar owners operating after-hours, will return on May 17 ahead of the full reopening, Cuomo said.
The MTA will resume 24-hour subway service beginning Monday, May 17.
The improvements to the MTA in cleanliness and quality of service will continue.
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) May 3, 2021
Cuomo announced the decision in tandem with Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey and Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut. Restaurants and bars in those states can also reopen at full capacity starting on May 19. “With our COVID-19 numbers, particularly hospitalizations, trending decisively in the right direction and our vaccination goals within reach, now is the time to take major steps to reopen our economy and loosen both indoor and outdoor gathering and capacity restrictions,” Murphy said in a statement.
The updates come after a busy week of announcements from city and state officials targeted at rolling back pandemic-related restrictions on restaurants and bars. Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he hoped to see a full reopening of the city by July 1, proclaiming the upcoming season “the summer of New York City.” A day later, Cuomo declared that indoor capacity would increase for restaurants and bars statewide from 50 to 75 percent starting on May 7, citing a downward trend in positivity and hospitalization rates at the time.
“When you see the positivity and the hospitalization rate go down or stabilize, we reopen more,” Cuomo said at a press conference on April 29. “We’ve been increasing curfews, etcetera. We are going to be increasing capacity level because the number is down low.”
Earlier this month, Cuomo announced that the midnight curfew on NYC restaurants and bars would be eliminated for outdoor dining starting on May 17 and indoor dining starting on May 31. Bar seating, which has been prohibited since the city first shut down, returned on May 3 as part of the announcement.
As of May 1, the COVID-19 test positivity rate on a seven-day average in NYC was 2.78 percent, according to city data, tracking well below officials’ safety threshold of 5 percent. More than 9 million New Yorkers — over 46 percent of the state population — have received at least one dose of the vaccine at the time of publication, according to state data.
Additional reporting by Erika Adams
This is a developing story and Eater will continue to update this post.