When it comes to designing a public health policy, satisfying all parties is nearly impossible. But with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s latest Covid-related restrictions, nobody seems satisfied.
In response to rising hospitalizations and positivity rates across the state, Cuomo announced last week that restaurants, bars and gyms must close by 10 p.m. Almost immediately, debates erupted on Twitter about the logic of this policy. Many ridiculed the governor for imposing a rule that, on its face, might imply that the virus is more virulent at night. “So according Cuomo’s science, Covid will wait until 10pm everyday and then start spreading when all the gyms, bars are closed?” one person tweeted. Meanwhile, restaurateurs expressed their frustration over a policy that could further distress an already struggling industry.
The curfew that went into effect on Friday shortens the window that restaurants can do business, shrinking the dinner hour and making it difficult for sit-down restaurants to offer reservations past 8:30 p.m. Before this latest restriction, restaurants were allowed to stay open outdoors until 11 p.m. and indoors until midnight. Already, restaurants are taking a hit from the new curfew.
“Our revenue fell by 25 percent on Friday and Saturday night,” said Mark Fox, President of Fox Lifestyle Hospitality Group, which operates four restaurants in New York City. “We were refusing people who wanted to sit, and they were actually annoyed with us even though it’s state mandated.”
Fox added that evening-shift workers, including waiters and cooks, are losing hours and wages as a result of the new rule, which Fox calls illogical. “What difference does it make if someone sits at 8:30 p.m. and leaves at 10:30 pm. or sits at 7:30 p.m. and leaves at 9:30 p.m.?” he asked.
Cuomo did not provide a clear answer to this question in his original announcement, though he did reason that the curfew would help New York avoid spillover from states like Connecticut and New Jersey, which have imposed their own 10 p.m. curfews.
To be fair, public health research has found some links between dining at restaurants and the spread of the coronavirus. One report published this month used data collected from the smartphones of millions of Americans and found that restaurants are among the venues where the coronavirus is most likely to spread. In September, the CDC reported that adults who tested positive for the virus were about twice as likely to have dined at a restaurant than those who tested negative.
That being said, small gatherings in people’s apartments and homes are perhaps of greater concern, experts say.
“If you’re at a restaurant with your friends, you still have to follow the rules of a restaurant,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “Whereas if you’re in your own private apartment, you’re not going to have any kind of rules.”
To curb the spread of the virus in residences, Cuomo has also put in place a restriction limiting private gatherings to no more than 10 people. But this rule is difficult to enforce and does not preclude people from gathering in close quarters unmasked. In fact, Adalja expressed concern that the 10 p.m. curfew could simply result in more private gatherings. “You have to be very careful with public health measures because if you take some type of an action, you have to think of the unintended consequences,” he said.
Teresa de la Haba, who owns the long-standing pub McSorley’s, says she’s already seen these unintended consequences. She noticed that after her bar closes at 10 p.m., her customers go pick up cases of beer and simply take their party to someone’s apartment.
McSorley’s has been around for 166 years and has even survived the Spanish Flu of 1918. De la Haba says confidently that McSorely’s will survive, yet she’s clearly exhausted and ready for the upswing.
“Our business has been affected through this whole thing, so [the curfew] is just one more thing to deal with,” she says. She later adds, “It’s kind of crazy for us to go home at 10 p.m. Hopefully there’s plenty of vaccines and the city gets back to what it was.”