Should NYC allow indoor dining during Phase Three?

Crowded outdoor seating at La Pecora Biance in New York City on June 24, 2020.
Crowded outdoor seating at La Pecora Biance in New York City on June 24, 2020.
Erik Pendzich/Shutterstock
Crowded outdoor seating at La Pecora Biance in New York City on June 24, 2020.

Should NYC allow indoor dining during Phase Three?

Not until New Yorkers learn how to keep their masks on and stay six feet a part, according to health experts.
June 29, 2020

New York City is one week away from entering Phase Three of reopening after the coronavirus lockdown, which means that New Yorkers may soon be able to drink and dine inside of restaurants and bars, visit nail and tanning salons and tattoo parlors. However, on Monday, both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that they will be reconsidering the inclusion of indoor eating and drinking and the reopening of malls in Phase Three. 

It has become apparent that many new coronavirus cases around the country have stemmed from outings to restaurants and bars, giving the governor and the mayor second thoughts about New York City’s notoriously cramped bars and restaurants to reopen. 

"We have a week before New York City enters the next phase and we have numbers every day … but malls and indoor dining are things that I’m concerned about and we may consider slowing them down for next week," Cuomo told NY1. "I would not want to roll back anything we’ve done. I want to continue to move forward but we may move forward with caution."

The mayor was not the first elected official in New York City to raise a warning flag. New York City Council Health Committee Chair Mark Levine tweeted his opposition to allowing “indoor service as currently planned for July 6” at bars and restaurants. On Monday morning, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer tweeted that he had told Cuomo of his concerns about indoor dining. 

 "We're at a watershed moment for the city of New York. We have to get it right,” de Blasio said during a press conference. “We're going to make adjustments all the time and we'll be open to you about when we need to make adjustments. But we're also going to be very open about the progress and what we need to do. When we see a problem, like concerns about indoor dining, we have to address it."

After quickly reopening despite the threat of COVID-19, states such as Texas, Idaho and Florida have already begun shutting down their bars and restaurants to try to curtail further coronavirus infections. On Monday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced that the state would no longer allow its restaurants to reopen for indoor service come Thursday, after outdoor bars and restaurants became crowded with maskless patrons over the weekend.

Cuomo said that he expects to have a decision made regarding indoor dining by Wednesday. However, restaurants have already opened up for indoor eating throughout most of the state. Other regions have been reopening at a much faster rate than New York City, which suffered from the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the state and the country. It is too soon to know how much of an effect indoor dining may have on the rest of the state’s residents as it can take two weeks for symptoms of the virus to show. 

Dr. Danielle Ompad, an associate professor of epidemiology at New York University’s School of Global Public Health, told City & State that unless New Yorkers learn how to properly social distance and wear their masks, they should forget about eating indoors – or even outdoors. While it’s impossible to eat or drink while wearing a mask, Ompad says that if you’re going to a bar or restaurant you need to keep your mask on except for when actually eating or drinking. “This is a social contract,” Ompad said. “How are you going to go to a bar and not wear a mask? If you cannot handle your liquor to the point that you don't use a mask, you shouldn’t be in a bar right now. If we don't cooperate with these (social distancing and mask wearing) guidelines we’re either going to have to shut down the economy once again or we'll just keep opening up more businesses and more people are going to die,” she continued. “Either scenario is not a great scenario, so we have to cooperate.”

Studies have shown that the likelihood of contracting or transmitting the coronavirus is far higher indoors, especially during large events like weddings, than when individuals are outdoors. However, even dining outside has become the subject of scrutiny lately as more and morephotos taken around the city have shown that many outdoor diners and bar-goers are without masks and are not six feet apart. 

Though one is less likely to contract or transmit the virus outside, it is still a possibility if individuals do not maintain proper social distancing measures or are without masks. “It’s important for us to remember that the risk of COVID-19 remains active but it is significantly decreased when we’re outside, and especially when we’re 6 feet away, and especially when we’re wearing a mask,” Dustin Duncan, an associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, recently told City & State.

Amanda Luz Henning Santiago
Amanda Luz Henning Santiago
is City & State's web reporter and social media editor.
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