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Owners and patrons frustrated as NYC extends curfew for restaurants and bars - Jack Stone Truitt




FEI LU, HOST: New York is slowly springing back to life. Ballparks are open, at least partially. Comedy show barkers are back on MacDougal street. And half of adults in the city have received at least one vaccine dose. This week, the state revised its curfew for restaurants and bars. But, as Jack Stone Truitt reports, if you are going out for a bite or drink in the city that never sleeps, you’ll still have to finish up by midnight.


JACK STONE TRUITT, BYLINE: Marcus Ortiz and his friends are having a drink in a booth outside Dive 106 in Morningside Heights. It’s almost closing time, but they’re not ready to leave just yet.

MARCUS ORTIZ: Does COVID go away when it’s bedtime? I’m a little confused (0:04)

TRUITT: Last week bar patrons had to leave by 11pm, now it’s midnight. Since restaurants and bars reopened last summer, the curfew has shifted as infection rates rise and fall. It has been as late as midnight before, but only for indoor dining. It’s also been as early as 10. This most recent extension was announced unexpectedly on twitter from Gov. Cuomo.


The city’s COVID rate is decreasing, but remains stubbornly high despite encouraging vaccination numbers. Earlier this month curfews were lifted entirely for certain businesses like casinos and gyms. Last week at a press conference Mayor de Blasio said adjusting the rules for restaurants and bars is a bit of a public health experiment in progress.


MAYOR DE BLASIO: Let's see what happens out there. Let's make sure that we're making decisions based on the data, and the science. And data and science means, you need to give a little time to see how things work. (0:10)


TRUITT: I contacted the state health department for an interview. They responded with a statement saying that bar patron activity presents inherent risks to preventing the spread of COVID. And New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi (Chok-see) has urged caution in places where after a few drinks people might drop their guard--and their mask along with it. Scott Wexler, executive director of the Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association, disagrees.


SCOTT WEXLER: That is not based on science and fact. You know that’s based on? That’s based on emotion, and ignorance. (0:09)


TRUITT: He says the risk doesn’t come from what time it is, but whether or not bars and restaurants are enforcing COVID protocols.


WEXLER: And if we’re following the rules then we should be able to be open at all hours. Because it’s the rules. The hour is not a public health rule. (0:17)

TRUITT: Dr. Bruce Y. Lee is a health policy and management professor at CUNY, specializing in computer modeling for infectious diseases to advise policymakers. He says guidelines and curfews work best when the public understands the reasons behind them..


BRUCE Y. LEE: In many ways, it might be better to really enforce interventions that are clearly linked to reducing the spread of the virus. (0:10)


TRUITT: He says that inconsistent or fast-changing rules for different businesses make it hard to draw clear associations between what’s working and what isn’t. So customers and business owners often don’t understand why a restaurant has to close up while a fitness center is open 24/7.


A CDC study in September did conclude that drinking and dining out is a riskier public activity than going shopping or to the salon. But Lee says the primary factors of transmission are about lots of people in a shared airspace, whatever the establishment.

LEE: That applies whether you're a restaurant, or a gym, or you know, any other types of business or you know, a party or what have you. (0:08)


TRUITT: For many bar owners, the curfews are more of a burden than the restrictions on capacity, especially as outdoor seating becomes more popular with warmer weather. Callum Cunningham is co-owner of Corner Social, a busy sports bar in Harlem. He expects the extra hour of business from 11-midnight might mean as much as $15,000 per month in increased revenue for him and his staff.


CALLUM CUNNINGHAM: That's like $15,000 off your rent, $15,000 to help you pay back all the money you owe in the shutdown and stuff so it is a big effect (0:09)


TRUITT 8 The state hasn’t announced when or if it will revise the curfew. In the meantime, restaurant and bar owners will be keeping an eye on the governor’s twitter feed as New York City slowly, but surely, earns back its insomniac nickname.


Jack Stone Truitt, Columbia Radio News.




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