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Cuomo imposes new restrictions, penalties on bars and restaurants to curb COVID-19

New rules on bars and restaurants require alcohol to only be served to patrons who are also ordering food.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is imposing new rules on bars and restaurants across the state and limiting the sale of alcohol in some cases, as a way to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Under new regulations set to take effect this weekend, alcohol at bars and restaurants can only be served to patrons who are seated at safely-spaced tables and who are also ordering food. Cuomo, in a conference call with reporters Thursday, said regular bar service was never specifically authorized in outdoor dining rules, and it has led to numerous complaints of patrons not adhering to social distancing guidelines.

"If you’re not eating a meal and you’re just drinking, then it’s just an outdoor bar and people are mingling," said Cuomo, who said all walk up bar service will be banned.

The state liquor authority is investigating what the governor said is "significant evidence" that of non-compliance by numerous restaurants and bars, and will publish the names of businesses who are charged with violations of the rules. Three violations will be cause for loss of a liquor license.  

"New Yorkers are outraged at these establishments, we’re getting thousands of complaints, pictures, videos," Cuomo said. "This is a question of public health."

Cuomo said he welcomes more photos from the public about any potential violations that they might witness.

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said there may be some creativity among establishments in order to comply with the regulation.

"There will be a lot of good specials at some of our restaurants. 25 cent chip night, Doritos might be 15 cents," McMahon said. But he said most establishments will abide by the rules.

"They have done a very good job of limiting the number of people in facility. Sitting people down at a table, and making sure if you’re at the table no mask, but if you get up you have to wear a mask," McMahon said. "They’ve done everything they’ve been asked, to date, and I’m sure they’ll comply with this."

Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, called the new rules "counterproductive."

"People will simply gravitate to stoops, streets and parks with open containers creating less safe conditions elsewhere," Rigie said in a statement. He said it "jeopardizes workers’ safety and subjects businesses to incredible liabilities for behaviors out of their control."

New York City is poised to enter phase four of reopening Monday, the last region of the state do so. Cuomo said a final decision will be made by 4 p.m. Friday. But he said indoor dining will not be allowed in the city, for now. He cites instances of other states where the virus is spiking at alarming rates, and where some scientist believe indoor dining and bar service has contributed to the spread of the disease.

New York reports that there were fewer new hospitalizations and fewer people in the hospital because of COVID -19 on July 15, but there were 769 new cases, and 14 people died of the disease.

Cuomo said he’s worried that, despite a quarantine order for travelers from nearly two dozen states with high rates of infection, New York’s rate will rise once more.

He said 92% of those arriving on planes from those states are complying with requests to fill out forms listing the address in New York where they will be for two weeks. But he admitted that does not necessarily mean they are actually quarantining, and health officials are doing random checks. 

"Not everyone gets a knock on the door," said Cuomo. "But it’s like any other law. You can speed, yeah, but if you get caught you get the ticket."

And the fines are steep, up to $2,000 and possibly a court ordered quarantine. Cuomo said, though, that New York cannot question those driving from the other states or enforce quarantines for them.

Cuomo, in a media call later in the day, praised a study by the Centers of Disease Control, which said a federal ban on travelers from Europe in mid-March came too late for New York City. Cuomo had contended that the influx of visitors sick with a strain of the virus from European countries contributed to the region’s high infection rate in the spring.  He said now that’s confirmed, and it was a "terrible failing" by the federal government. He said President Donald Trump has touted the ban he authorized on travelers from China in early February.

"By the time the President did the China travel ban it was too late," Cuomo said. "Because the virus had left China and went to Europe."

Cuomo also criticized the current handling of the virus in states where the numbers are spiraling upward, saying it is a "man-made second wave" of the virus that didn’t have to happen. He said those state’s governors, and federal leaders, did not learn the lessons from the experience of New York and many other countries, who brought the disease under control, at least for now, through imposing strict safety rules including mandatory masks and measured re opening plans.

Thursday afternoon, in an appearance on CNN, Cuomo said "thousands of Americans are dying who did not have to die." 

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.