Since the year began, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has affected many businesses in America. But unlike some companies that can allow employees to work from home, restaurants were hit the hardest as they rely on indoor dining, along with takeouts and deliveries, to make a profit.
On August 21, Thursday, the New York City Hospitality Alliance demanded that Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo immediately release their plans or a timeline for when indoor dining can resume during the pandemic.
Uncertainties and phase three of the state reopening
After Mayor de Blasio revealed that he had “no plan” nor a timeline for when restaurants in the city can resume indoor dining during the COVID-19 pandemic, the NYC Hospitality Alliance threatened to sue the politician.
Following Mayor de Blasio’s announcement that indoor dining was postponed indefinitely, a group of 100 restaurants in Brooklyn and Staten Island have also announced that they will file a class-action lawsuit to pressure New York into letting restaurants resume indoor dining.
In a press conference, de Blasio declared that while the situation is being monitored daily, there must first be a significant improvement before he even considers allowing restaurants to accept dine-in customers once again.
In early July, New York City entered phase three of Cuomo’s reopening plan for New York. Indoor dining was part of phase three, but both Cuomo and de Blasio have only allowed outdoor dining in the city’s five boroughs.
Every other county in New York state is currently allowed to have indoor dining, but only at reduced capacity.
A floundering industry that requires immediate government action
The NYC Hospitality Alliance aired its complaints about being put on the backburner in plans for the city’s reopening.
More than six weeks have passed since indoor dining was delayed indefinitely, but there is still no plan on when restaurants will resume normal operations. On the other hand, gyms, which were in phase four, and schools have already received respective reopening guidelines or plans.
To date, New York has a positive test rate of 0.72 percent. It is among the lowest in the country and the state’s infection rate has been below one percent for 14 straight days. (Related: New York City to reopen schools ONLY if coronavirus test rate stays below 3%.)
Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, explained that even though New York “exceeds and sustains the metrics that have allowed restaurants throughout the rest of the state to reopen,” government leaders still haven’t announced when small business owners, workers and customers can expect indoor dining to resume.
Rigie emphasized that the industry’s survival over the next several months is contingent on the government promptly developing and implementing a plan so restaurants in the city can safely welcome diners like other dining establishments in the rest of the state.
According to the NYC Hospitality Alliance, a survey of 500 restaurants and bar owners revealed that at least 83 percent was unable to pay commercial rent last July. The association added compared to March of this year, restaurants and bars employ 200,000 fewer people.
The latest unemployment figures have also found that at least 60 percent of hospitality industry workers are now unemployed. According to the US Department of Labor’s monthly report released last April 4, a total of 701,000 jobs were lost in March. Restaurants and bars accounted for 419,000 of the jobs axed in the same month.
Outdoor dining and lack of compliance
After being asked to comment about the NYC Hospitality Alliance’s demand for a plan, Cuomo said that he understands the plight of struggling businesses in the hospitality industry. He added that this one reason why establishments were allowed to resume outdoor dining amid the pandemic.
However, Cuomo expressed his concern about how profitable outdoor dining would be once winter rolls around, especially since customers might be less inclined to eat out in the cold.
Defending his lack of a plan for the reopening of indoor dining, Cuomo claimed that restaurants in the city also need to deal with other various factors that establishments don’t have to face elsewhere in the state because they’re in different environments. “They’re different demographically, they’re different in population, they’re different by density, they’re different by crowding factor,” said Cuomo.
The mayor insisted that NYC has to more careful because of these factors and that it “would be negligent not to be.” Cuomo concluded that while New York and other states have different dynamics, the city is facing a bigger problem: “the lack of compliance.”
The largest settings that affect customers
According to data from states and cities across the country, the majority of community outbreaks of COVID-19 this summer were concentrated in restaurants and bars.
In Maryland, contact tracers reported that at least 12 percent of new cases from July were traced to restaurants. In Colorado, about nine percent of outbreaks overall were traced to both bars and restaurants.
Experts have yet to determine what percentage of workers transmitted the virus among themselves or to patrons. It’s also unknown if customers acted as carriers of the virus.
Health officials are concerned about the clusters or coronavirus infections since a lot of restaurant and bar employees throughout America are in their 20s. People in this age bracket can bring the virus home and possibly cause household transmissions, as seen in the last couple of days across the Sun Belt and the West.
In late June, the majority of popular restaurants in America, such as those in Nashville, Las Vegas, Atlanta and Milwaukee, closed temporarily because of cases among employees. Texas and Florida also closed bars this summer following a surge of new cases in both states.
Early on August, 15 of the 39 new cases in community settings were traced back to restaurants in San Diego. In Washington, cases have also been reported after the city reopened indoor dining.
In New York City and many other areas, indoor dining is still banned. Public health researchers agree that indoor dining, particularly in bars, is more likely to cause coronavirus outbreaks compared to outdoor settings.