NEW YORK — New York City restaurants will be allowed to operate at 35% capacity starting next Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced.
Indoor dining resumed in the city at 25% capacity last week after two months of it being suspended due to climbing coronavirus rates.
The governor said 35% capacity is consistent with what's allowed in New Jersey.
"What's happening now is people in New York City - Staten Island and Manhattan - are going to New Jersey to those restaurants, so it's not really accomplishing a purpose," Cuomo said.
Restaurants on Long Island and in Westchester are allowed to operate at 50% capacity.
The state Department of Health will ease restrictions on nursing home visits following new guidance from federal health officials, Cuomo also announced on Friday.
The announcement comes amid growing scrutiny of the Cuomo administration's handling of nursing homes during the pandemic and disclosure of fatalities.
The state Department of Health will recommend the use of rapid COVID-19 tests for visitors at the facilities prior to entry. The DOH will provide the rapid tests of the nursing homes free of charge, Cuomo said.
"I believe the testing is the key to reopening and we're opening rapid testing sites as we speak," Cuomo said.
The governor said 11 rapid testing sites are opening in the city.
More than 15,000 residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities have died since the start of the pandemic in March in New York. About 73% of nursing home residents have been vaccinated in New York.
Cuomo is facing growing criticism in New York over his handling of nursing homes during the pandemic. Cuomo on Monday said he regretted not making nursing home data public sooner after state lawmakers and members of the public had been seeking it since the summer.
The owners of several restaurants in Astoria who spoke with NY1 were optimistic about the news.
Katherine Fuchs, the chef and owner of The Thirsty Koala in Astoria, says cooking is what makes her happy, but that joy has been coupled with a lot of stress and uncertainty amid the pandemic. Now, she says, things appear to be turning a corner.
“We’re very hopeful for the future right now,” she said. “Before, I was very pessimistic, and now I feel hopeful.”
She says while the 10 percent increase won’t do much for her bottom line, since she has a smaller dining room, it’s an indication to her that they may not have to rely on their outdoor dining area as much – and considering the recent weather, she says that's a blessing.
Nathan Finnegan, who owns two restaurants – Albatross and Icon – in Astoria, is also cautiously optimistic.
"We’re trying to give ourselves out of a hole that was a year long," he said. "35 percent is a step in the right direction, but it's not going to solve any of our problems."
What he and other restaurant owners find the most encouraging is how quickly the decision to increase capacity has come down. Previously, the process seemed to languish. He just hopes there aren’t any political motivations behind the change.
“I hope that they are following the science and that this is the safer measure, and that’s what they’ve been doing all along,” Finnegan said.
What’s different now is that restaurant workers now qualify for the COVID-19 vaccine, and testing is widely available.
At Astoria’s Bel-Aire Diner, they see the increase in capacity as something that really can make a difference.
“For us, an extra 10 percent is 20 people,” said Peter Dellaportas, the co-owner of Bel-Aire Diner. “So for us, it's a lot more.”