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Restaurants say Cuomo's new rules will lead more to shut their doors

New York state is operating under a new set of metrics to determine pandemic-related shutdowns. But some, including restaurant owners, are finding Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new criteria difficult to decipher, and worry it will mean more eateries will soon be out of business.

The state is already using a microcluster approach based on the rising positivity rate of the virus in a region. An area is declared a yellow, orange or red zone, with corresponding restrictions, including limits on public gatherings and potential closures of businesses like gyms and hair salons.

Beginning this week, Cuomo said, the availability of hospital beds in a region will also be a factor when determining full or partial shutdowns.

“If our hospital capacity becomes critical, we're going to close down that region, period. We call closedown a red zone,” Cuomo said on Monday.

But making that determination is a little more complicated. The governor said it will be based on a seven-day average of hospitalizations, combined with the rate of positive test results.

“If your seven-day average says if that continues for three weeks, you're going to hit critical hospital capacity, we close you down. We want that three-week buffer. And then we call critical 90% of your hospital capacity,” Cuomo said. “So, a little complicated.”

Cuomo is also asking hospitals to increase their bed capacity by 25%.

The governor also said he is increasingly worried about indoor dining. He said he wants to follow new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, and if a region’s hospitalization rate for COVID-19 is going up, he’d further limit indoor dining to 25% of capacity, and ban it entirely in New York City.

“If after five days we haven't seen a stabilization in a region's hospital rate, we're going to clamp down on indoor dining,” Cuomo said.

Melissa Fleischut, who leads the New York State Restaurant Association, said based on the governor’s remarks, restaurants expect indoor dining will be essentially shut down within the week. She said the new rules for indoor dining limits are on top of the current color zone designations, which have become what she called a “confusing patchwork” of yellow and orange zones, with corresponding restrictions, all across the state.

“It’s going to be something to look at the map and try to figure out what the capacity limits are and where indoor dining is and isn’t allowed,” Fleischut said.

Fleischut said the discussions about the safety of indoor dining have already had a chilling effect on business, and restaurants in New York have seen a significant drop-off in patrons since mid-November, when the weather turned colder. She disputed the CDC’s newest national guidelines on indoor dining, saying they don’t take into account the additional safety precautions required in New York-based eateries.

Many restaurants have already preemptively limited their services to takeout and delivery, and she said those that are allowed to remain open, reduced from a 50% capacity to a 25% capacity, will likely decide it’s not worth it economically.

“Because if the numbers don’t work at 50%, they really don’t work at 25%,” she said.

Fleischut said restaurants are in dire need of financial relief, and she hopes that Congress will pass the latest $908 billion stimulus package before the end of the month. It would include a renewal of Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, loans, which provide money for owners to pay their employees.

But she said what’s really needed is a dedicated fund for restaurants, and she hopes President-elect Joe Biden, after he’s inaugurated, and the new Congress in 2021 can make that happen.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.
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