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Jan. 14, 2021, 3:44 p.m. EST

Indoor dining still off-limits for NYC as restrictions loosen statewide after court case

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Virginia K. Smith

New York City restaurant-goers will continue taking their meals under heat lamps this winter, even as a court allowed indoor dining to resume at restaurants in most other parts of the state.

Areas across the state that are currently designated as orange zones will be allowed to reopen indoor dining under the rules governing yellow zones, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office announced on Thursday. The move comes in response to a court decision on Wednesday, in which a state judge ruled in favor of a group of Erie County restaurants that had challenged the indoor-dining restrictions that came with their designation as orange zones.

But the loosening of restrictions will not apply in New York City , where indoor dining is closed indefinitely based on a separate executive order issued in early December. Currently, no criteria have been released for potentially re-opening indoor dining in the city.

Meanwhile, restaurant reopenings in orange zones elsewhere in the state may be short lived, as Cuomo’s office is likely to appeal the court ruling.

Related: A cruel winter: New York City restaurants struggle for survival amid second indoor dining ban

In a statement, gubernatorial counsel Kumiki Gibson said, “We are reviewing the decision. While that process is ongoing, to ensure uniformity and fairness, all restaurants operating in Orange Zones can now operate under rules governing Yellow Zones.”

“We disagree with the court’s decision and its impact on public health as Federal CDC data clearly demonstrates indoor dining increases COVID-19 spread,” the statement continued. “From the start of this pandemic, the state has acted based on facts and the advice of public health experts, and we will continue that approach.”

The NYC Hospitality Alliance issued a joint statement from its counsel Robert Bookman and executive director Andrew Rigie, in response to the court ruling, calling the ongoing indoor dining ban “outrageous and destructive to thousands of restaurants across the five boroughs, especially when our infection and hospitalization rates are lower than most counties in the state where indoor dining is permitted at 50% occupancy.” 

Statewide, 6.4% of COVID-19 tests given on Wednesday were positive, and in New York City, 5.6% were positive, according to data from the governor’s office.

Also see: Anxious New Yorkers getting jumpy about slow vaccines

Earlier this week, a group of 70 New York City bars and restaurants filed a lawsuit against the governor over the “Kafkaesque nightmare” of shifting indoor- and outdoor-dining regulations. In addition to sustaining major ongoing revenue losses, the plaintiffs say, many bars and restaurants have spent thousands of dollars or more retrofitting outdoor spaces to meet new state regulations, only to have the rules change with little or no notice.

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