Overlooked amidst the uproar over Governor Cuomo’s decision to shut down indoor dining in the Empire State was a crucial statistic: according to contact tracing data from New York State, restaurants and bars were responsible for less than 1.5 percent of cases of COVID spread between September and November.
You read that right: 1.5 percent of COVID cases can be traced back to bars and restaurants. An entire industry – and the jobs and livelihoods they provide – is on the chopping block for a minute percentage of the problem.
By contrast, nearly three quarters of the cases – a full 74 percent – have been driven by “private household gatherings.” House parties, it turns out, are far and away the biggest culprit for spreading coronavirus, and it’s not even close.
In this context, closing indoor dining is not just bad business, it actually makes the problem worse. We believe in common-sense solutions that go beyond the headlines. If we really want to combat the spread of COVID, we should be opening more restaurants. We should give people more regulated, safe spaces where capacity is closely monitored, patrons must wear masks, and appropriate distances are maintained, and get them out of the private events where none of those safeguards are in place.
TO TAKE AWAY A PERSON’S LIVELIHOOD IS ONE THING. TO DO IT WITHOUT ANY SORT OF CORRESPONDING ECONOMIC SUPPORT IS UNCONSCIONABLE.
We sympathize with the choices facing Governor Cuomo. He, like elected officials around the country, is operating in a challenging political environment and trying to tackle the greatest public health crisis of our lifetime. But too many people fall into the trap of judging policies based on their intentions rather than their results and we cannot afford to do that here, with so many lives and livelihoods at stake.
The numbers are staggering: According to the office of the New York state Comptroller, restaurants in New York City alone provided 317,800 jobs and paid $10.7 billion in total wages citywide in 2019. More than 60 percent of these workers were immigrants. Many of these folks have worked their whole lives to build their small businesses and are now being required to shut down one of the biggest parts of that business, without guarantees of meaningful federal stimulus. To take away a person’s livelihood is one thing. To do it without any sort of corresponding economic support is unconscionable.
We need to be doing everything in our power to maintain the 100,000 restaurant jobs that have come back to New York City since the pandemic hit. We need to protect our young people, many of whom have little to no savings, and who make up the bulk of service industry workers. We need common-sense solutions that protect the public’s safety without throwing our service industry workers to the wolves. We can do all this while also slowing the spread of COVID-19.
Governor Cuomo, if you want to truly slow the spread of the disease, we are with you. But do not shutter the restaurant industry – and its hundreds of thousands of jobs. Instead, re-open indoor dining, give support to these businesses that are struggling, and get folks away from private parties, where the spreading actually occurs. Your own data tells us it’s the best way forward.