New York City will open its streets and sidewalks to restaurants and bars as they prepare to welcome outdoor diners for the first time in three months on Monday, when the second phase of the city’s reopening begins, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Thursday.
“We are the greatest restaurant city in the world,” said de Blasio in his daily morning news briefing. “This is a huge industry in New York City, and there are so many tens of thousands of people who depend on the restaurant industry for their livelihood.”
De Blasio signed an executive order launching Open Restaurants, the official plan for reopening city eateries — an industry he called the “heart and soul” of New York’s identity — for outdoor dining beginning next week. The plan removes bureaucratic red tape and allows restaurants to serve dine-in customers with outdoor seating options including curb lanes, backyards, and patios and sidewalks. In July, outdoor dining will expand to open streets that have been temporarily closed to traffic and pedestrian plazas.
The new regulations are anticipated to allow 5,000 restaurants to reopen, bringing back 45,000 jobs, the mayor said. The city is home to around 27,000 restaurants.
“These restaurants are vital to the economic fabric and social landscape of the City of New York,” said Andrew Rigie, executive director of New York City Hospitality Alliance.
Open Restaurants is a part of the city’s broader Phase 2 reopening that’s supposed to begin on Monday, and which de Blasio called the “single biggest” of all the phases. With businesses including offices, salons and barbershops, in-store retail, real estate, vehicle sales, and building management all allowed limited re-openings, an additional 150,000 to 300,000 workers are anticipated to be able to return to their jobs.
For offices, retail stores, and salons, Phase 2 rules require 50% capacity, social distancing, use of face masks, and in the case of office workers, daily health screenings.
Measurements of the virus continue to improve statewide, with just 0.9% of the 68,000 Covid-19 tests administered on Wednesday coming back positive. Meanwhile, 29 people died from the virus on Wednesday (17 deaths were recorded on Tuesday), and 1,358 were hospitalized.
“The overall curve is the lowest we have seen,” said Gov. Andrew Cuomo at his Thursday news briefing. “We have the lowest percent positive since we have started. We have the highest number of tests, with the lowest percent positive.”
In New York City, the rate of positive tests dropped from 1.4% on Saturday to 1% on Wednesday, Cuomo said.
The governor and mayor appeared on slightly different pages, once again on Thursday, with regard to Phase 2. An hour after the mayor’s announcement, Cuomo said state officials and global health experts were still reviewing the health data and that he would make a formal decision on Friday. The day before, Cuomo said New York City would enter Phase 2 on Monday, while de Blasio said the start date could be delayed several days or even until July.
Either way, Cuomo told businesses on Thursday to prepare as if they’re reopening next week.
“I am saying businesses should plan on reopening,” he said. “Everybody is feeling good.”
Cuomo also warned of consequences for businesses that flout safety protocols, announcing an executive order giving the State Liquor Authority power to immediately suspend alcohol licenses of bars and restaurants that fail to comply.
“We’ve made great progress,” Cuomo said. “I want to make sure we don’t slide back.”
As one of the pillars of the city’s tourism industry restarts next week, the governor also indicated the possibility of issuing travel restrictions for visitors from states with infection rates that are currently climbing. “We now have the virus under control,” Cuomo said. “But Florida doesn’t. Texas doesn’t, these other states don’t. What happens if they get on a plane and come to JFK?”
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When New York was at the height of the crisis, states including Texas, Florida, Maryland and South Carolina required travelers from the tri-state area to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, while Rhode Island briefly had officers searching for and pulling over drivers with New York license plates to inform them of travel restrictions and quarantine requirements.
More New York developments:
Rent freeze: New York City’s rent guidelines board passed a rent freeze for rent-stabilized apartments on Wednesday, mandating 0% rent increases for one-year stabilized leases, and a 1% increase in the second year of two-year leases. The freeze affects roughly 2 million New Yorkers.
Universities: New York state is issuing guidance to universities to allow for some “face-to-face programming in the fall,” and asking institutions to develop plans for approval that would include social distancing, screening for students and staff, and plans for cleaning and supply of personal protective equipment.
Business-owner help: As part of Open Restaurants, the city has set up a help hotline for business owners at 888-SBS-4NYC (888-727-4692). Restaurants or neighborhood groups seeking approval for restaurant seating in pedestrian plazas can contact firstname.lastname@example.org, and applications for restaurants to self-certify for outdoor dining will be available online on Friday, the mayor said.