New York City announced a list of guidelines Wednesday of how diners choosing to eat indoors right now can work to keep themselves and restaurant workers safer. “With indoor dining back at 25 percent, we want to focus on the right way to go about it,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio during his press conference Wednesday, where the guidelines were released. “We also want to focus on the right way to protect the folks who work there, we owe it to them to protect their safety.”
Among the recommended guidelines shared by the city’s public health advisor Dr. Jay Varma, diners are now being told that they should limit party sizes to four or fewer people with the additional caveat of the party being limited to family members or a social bubble; wearing masks at all times except for when eating and drinking (which goes a step further than the state’s guidelines, which lets diners take their masks off when they are seated); and scheduling tests for COVID-19 at least once a month.
New York City resumed indoor dining at 25 percent on February 12, though COVID-19 cases and the city’s positivity rate still remain high. In addition, the presence of new variants of the virus has led health experts to sound the alarm on a potential “fourth wave,” particularly if vaccination efforts don’t accelerate soon.
Though COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are on the decline overall, NYC still recorded 3,321 new cases on February 15 based on a seven-day average, and the city’s positivity rate stood at 7.04 percent. Even as the data is tracking downward, the numbers still remain high compared to when the state announced an indoor dining ban back in December last year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to list indoor dining among the highest risk activities for the spread of the virus.
Still, the restaurant industry remains divided over indoor dining’s return. Many in the industry feel they have no choice but reopen in order to stay afloat, particularly given the cold weather outdoors and the limited to non-existent financial support from the government. Owners also cite the precautions they’ve taken, including installing new air-filters, barriers between tables, temperature checks, and collecting information for contact tracing. Others, though, want to wait longer and say more New Yorkers need to be vaccinated before it is safe to resume indoor dining.
While restaurant workers are now eligible to receive the vaccine — and many have done so — it will still be a while before they receive their second doses, and the city has continually requested the federal government and vaccine manufacturers to step up production and distribution efforts to meet the high demand. “This is the last big fight, and we need a steady supply and a greater supply of vaccines,” said de Blasio during the press conference.
The city’s new guidelines announced Wednesday go a step further than the ones announced by the state, which has a more lax mask-wearing policy for diners seated indoors and allows up to 10 people from the same party to be seated together. A spokesperson for the mayor’s office clarified, however, that the city’s guidelines are suggestions they hope New Yorkers will follow, but the state sets the rules for indoor dining.