ALBANY — New York’s restaurant industry leaders are pleading with Gov. Andrew Cuomo to follow neighboring New Jersey’s example and lift the 10 p.m. COVID-19 curfew on bars and restaurants ahead of Super Bowl Sunday this weekend.
The Empire State Tavern Association — which represents over 3,000 taverns, bars and restaurants across the state — is proposing a pilot program that would extend dining hours statewide until midnight on Sunday, Feb. 7, allowing health officials to re-examine COVID-19 restriction compliance among patrons.
“Restaurant and tavern owners and their workers can safely operate their establishment at any time. Compliance with the governments restrictions is dependent on their commitment to following the rules and they can do that as well at 9 PM as they can do at 11 PM,” wrote Scott Wexler, the association’s executive director, on Thursday in a letter to Cuomo.
“Lifting the curfew for even two hours would provide an additional table turn for restaurants and will let patrons stay to watch the end of the game, rather than being thrown out at 10 PM and gathering with friends to watch the second half or third at someone’s home.”
Wexler argued the study would let the state decide whether the limit should be lifted before Feb. 14 — the day limited indoor dining in New York City is slated to resume for the first time since mid-December — providing businesses with much-needed additional operating time amid intense economic restrictions that have severely cut into their bottom line over the last year.
The move is a nod to the Garden State’s loosening of restrictions, as Democratic New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced Wednesday he’s doing away with the statewide 10 p.m. cap on indoor and outdoor dining establishments Friday.
“It’s important on Valentine’s Day, but really every day. With a 10 p.m. mandated closure, many restaurants and workers lose at least a whole seating of customers. If they are permitted to stay open until midnight like in the past, it would be extremely helpful since they’re struggling so bad financially,” NYC Hospitality Alliance executive director Andrew Rigie, who represents around 3,000 restaurants and nightlife establishments within the five boroughs, told The Post.
Cuomo has applauded a recent dip in the Empire State’s infection rate following the “holiday surge” aligned with the typical celebrations associated with the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s season.
“Since the Super Bowl won’t be over by 10 p.m., people will be running from regulated, reduced occupancy restaurants into unregulated apartments and homes to finish watching the big game, or just having house parties, which we know are a major factor in virus transmissions,” he said.
He put the 10 p.m. rule in place back in November, arguing he worried the holidays would encourage additional, unnecessary social gatherings, drive up the viral rate and potentially overwhelm the state’s hospital system.
“The holiday surge has tapered off, and we are on the decline, 4.95 [percent], that’s the first time we’ve had that low a positivity since the beginning of December,” the third-term Democrat cheered during a Monday press conference in Albany.
“The beginning of December was just at the start of the holiday surge, right? You had Thanksgiving, a few days later you start to get the results of infection spread on Thanksgiving.”
Cuomo permitted a similar pilot program involving rapid tests and a cohort of Buffalo Bills fans allowed in the upstate stadium last month, arguing the experiment was also a test run for reopening other industries like restaurants and other hospitality and entertainment venues.
Bars and restaurants have been hit hard by the pandemic, between state-imposed restrictions on operating hours, fines issued by the state Liquor Authority and massive job losses.
Recent figures released by the state Labor Department show staggering employment losses in the food services, restaurant and beverage industry, which fell by 43 percent year-to-year — from 324,500 in December 2019 to 183,800 in December 2020.
A spokesman for Cuomo did not immediately comment.