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Left, right unite to slam Cuomo on indoor dining

September 4, 2020 Raanan Geberer Brooklyn Daily Eagle And Marina Villeneuve Associated Press
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Opposition to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s refusal to let New York City reopen its restaurants for indoor dining is growing, and elected officials from the political left, center and right are uniting to criticize the policy.

At the same time, a group of restaurateurs have started a lawsuit to force Cuomo’s hand. Even so, Cuomo continues to hold off on indoor dining, which was supposed to return in early July but was canceled at the last minute.

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx-Queens), a self-described democratic socialist, took a swipe at Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio on Twitter, saying, “If it’s not safe enough for indoor dining, what makes it safe for indoor schooling?” Restaurants, unlike some schools, “actually have soap in the bathrooms,” she added.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, representing what might be called the mainstream of NYC Democratic politics, said in a press release last week, “It’s time to allow indoor dining in New York City with reduced capacity and clear guidance to ensure social distancing and safety. This is crucial for restaurant owners, who have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic and the resulting drop in tourism.”

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On the opposite side of the political aisle, Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis (R-Southwest Brooklyn-Staten Island), said last month, also on Twitter, “Why is New York City being treated differently than the rest of the State when it comes to indoor dining? We have met the metrics and are past Phase 4, yet no one has given these restaurants any indication of when they will be able to reopen, even partially.”

And, as the Eagle has mentioned, some restaurant owners, led by Il Bacco in Little Neck, Queens, have filed suit against Cuomo, de Blasio and the Attorney General’s Office for damages related to the city’s indoor dining ban. “If a restaurant patron travels five hundred feet east or one city block east from [Il Bacco], patrons are in Nassau County and can enjoy indoor dining in an air-conditioned room,” the suit reads. “According to Governor Cuomo, it is dangerous to eat at [Il Bacco] in Little Neck, Queens, but it is safe to dine indoors a few hundred feet away.”

More than 300 other restaurant owners have signed on to the lawsuit so far, the Associated Press said.

Governor Cuomo did concede that he thinks restaurants should open in New York City, but said that the state doesn’t have enough personnel to monitor the city’s 27,000-plus eateries.

“These institutions are under dire economic circumstances,” Cuomo said in a phone call with reporters Thursday. “And we know that compliance has to happen.” He said the city needs to come up with a plan.

The above-mentioned lawsuit was filed the same day New Jersey announced plans to allow indoor dining at 25 percent capacity starting Friday. Connecticut began allowing indoor dining at half capacity in June.

The rest of the state outside New York City also has allowed indoor dining at half capacity since June.

Mayor de Blasio had hoped the city was on track to allow indoor dining when it entered the third phase of Cuomo’s gradual reopening plan. But Cuomo announced he wouldn’t allow indoor dining in New York City over concerns about dining indoors fueling the spread of the coronavirus. The city has since pushed to expand outdoor dining, though Cuomo increased restrictions on bars following reports of crowds violating social distancing rules.

The restaurants, in their lawsuit over the ban on New York City indoor dining, claim the restriction lacks scientific basis and question why indoor dining is allowed so close to New York City.

On the other hand, some public health experts have warned that dining is risky in enclosed spaces with groups of people talking loudly, sharing food and drinking alcohol. States including Louisiana and Maryland have linked new cases to bars and restaurants.

New York is now reporting a sharp decline in hospitalizations and fatalities since a peak of over 18,000 COVID-19 patients and well over 700 deaths a day in mid-April.

Cuomo has praised New Yorkers for keeping infection rates down, contrary to expectations after the state began reopening in mid-May. New York City recorded about 9,000 positive COVID-19 tests in August, down from over 11,700 in June, according to state Department of Health data.

Still, the virus is not vanquished. Over 9,000 COVID-19 tests were positive across New York in the last two weeks of August, as some upstate communities weather upticks at colleges and elsewhere. And New York City has continued to represent about half of the state’s positive cases.

De Blasio said Thursday that the city will provide guidance to restaurants this month and that he is in “constant dialogue” with the state.

Cuomo suggested New York City could deploy police officers to ensure compliance with safety guidelines such as mask-wearing and capacity limits.

The mayor offered a note of caution: “The NYPD has a lot on its hands and they’re dealing with so many challenges and fighting back the challenges we face.”

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