NEW YORK — State officials in the coronavirus task force will closely monitor state COVID-19 numbers and new infections as indoor dining resumes in New York City at the end of the month and children return to school.
Indoor dining can resume in New York City restaurants at 25% capacity starting Sept. 30, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday afternoon during a pandemic briefing in Manhattan. Indoor dining resumed at 50% capacity in the state’s other nine regions in Phase III of reopening, which areas achieved in July, but remained shuttered in the city.
“If the infection rate goes up, BANG! Hit the emergency ‘pause’ button,” Cuomo said Wednesday. “I’ll recommend actions based on that information, but there’s no hard trigger.
“The worst-case scenario is seeing the infection rate go up and it’s a random community spread.”
Officials will monitor new infections and consider allowing city restaurants to welcome indoor diners at 50% capacity by Nov. 1, or when the weather has turned colder and outdoor dining is less appealing.
Many state COVID-19 clusters or hotspots can be traced back to a single public gathering, event or workplace. The state does not have a set threshold or number of coronavirus infections to sound the alarm or hit the governor’s make-shift “pause” button.
“There is no hard formula; there is no hard number,” Cuomo said. “There’s a lot of data every day, and you watch it every day. We will continue to watch the infection rate.”
The governor encouraged New Yorkers to take the city’s public transportation, including the subway and bus systems, as they return to work, students return to school and vehicle traffic clogs city roadways.
The state’s rate of new coronavirus cases, transmission and hospitalizations remains low, with under 1% new infections for the 33rd straight day Wednesday.
New York’s rate under 1% is almost artificially low, Cuomo said.
“The experts don’t understand how we have it so low,” he added. “No one has been here before.
“...you will see an increase in activity, I would not be surprised at all to see it go over 1%. ... at 2%, I start to get nervous... (at) 3%, I start to have heart palpitations, so there’s a gauge.”
Day-to-day fluctuations are expected, normal and not cause for concern, the governor said. Prolonged virus increases will sound the figurative state alarm to pause or decrease activity.
“At 3%, the alarm bell goes off... and again, not on any specific day,” he continued. “If you are three, four, five, six or seven days and you keep seeing that number staying up, then yeah, you have to worry.”
To reopen, city restaurant staff must check the temperature of every customer who comes through the door, per state guidelines.
At least one person in each party must provide contact information in case of COVID-19 exposure or outbreak for contact tracing.
Indoor bar service will remain closed, except to wait staff.
“They can make drinks, they can transfer them over the bar, but no one will be sitting at the bar,” the governor said. “Masks must be worn at all times, except when you’re sitting at a table.”
All restaurant tables must be at least six feet apart. City eating establishments must close at midnight, and must install the approved MERV-13 or higher filter into air-conditioning or filtration systems to cleanse COVID-19 from the air. The installation should be a filter change, and should not require a new air filtration system, Cuomo said.
Outdoor dining can continue as indoor dining resumes at 25% capacity.
“Rules are only as good as their compliance,” Cuomo said. “I can sit here all day and promulgate rules — wear a mask, stay home, stay six feet (apart). The rule is only as good as the compliance, and the compliance is only as good as the enforcement.”
New Yorkers will help self-police and enforce the state’s required guidance for indoor dining in the city during the pandemic. New York residents can call 1-833-208-4160 or text the word “VIOLATION” to 855-904-5036.
“It will all be anonymous — the restaurant will not know you were the one who provided information,” the governor said. “It will help the task force to send an inspector to that specific restaurant. We’re asking New Yorkers to be part of the solution.”
Violators could lose their state bar and restaurant license to operate.
“It depends on the egregiousness of the violation,” Cuomo said.
Four hundred New York City code enforcement inspectors will be assigned to monitor the compliance of state guidelines at the 10,000 city establishments.
Bar compliance has improved after State Liquor Authority and state police investigators visited more than 36,000 establishments in the last month ensuring businesses and patrons comply with the state’s social distancing and mask wearing COVID-19 mandates to reduce virus spread.
The SLA and police task force issued five violations to downstate businesses Wednesday, including four in Nassau County and one in the Bronx. Early on in compliance enforcement, inspectors issued violations to dozens of mainly downstate businesses each day.
Compliance has surged to about 99.2% in bars, Cuomo said, as businesses with multiple violations could lose their liquor license.
“Ten thousand is still a very large universe,” the governor said. “New Yorkers themselves will help with the compliance. New Yorkers will help keep New Yorkers safe. ... The only way you’ll be safe is if you work to protect each other.
“I believe in New Yorkers’ ability to do the right thing,” Cuomo added. “...People put a lot of trust and faith in me and trust is reciprocal. They trusted me, I trust them and I trust if they have the right information, they will do the right thing.”
State departments and the state Restaurant Association will run a series of Public Service Announcements encouraging New Yorkers to be part of the compliance effort and following the 25% capacity rule and New York’s reopening guidelines. For more information, visit ny.gov/nycindoordining.
The state released $88.6 million in funding Wednesday for childcare providers statewide to assist people returning to work as many children continue with online learning.
The state’s rate of new COVID-19 infections remained under 1% at 0.91% positive — or 576 additional coronavirus cases after 63,230 tests Tuesday. Hospitalizations increased to 463 patients Wednesday.
Three New Yorkers died from the virus Tuesday, including two in hospitals and one in a nursing home, down from five fatalities Monday.