New York City Moves Toward Closing Bars and Eat-in Restaurants

Photo: Jeenah Moon/Getty Images

Update: Mayor de Blasio issued the following statement Sunday night, after this piece was published:

New York City schools are closed, and soon the rest of the city could be, as well.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Sunday that he is meeting with top aides Sunday night and in coming days to consider measures to close the city’s bars and restaurants to confront a growing coronavirus crisis that has shown no sign of abating.

The conversations come as a growing number of city officials are calling on the city to implement what they are calling a city lockdown that would at minimum close bars and restaurants and would further shut down places of business.

As he called for schools to be closed and said he was looking at more stringent measures, de Blasio sent mixed messages about what the future would hold.

“The next set of decisions we’re going to start in a matter of hours. We may have announcements tonight, we may have announcements tomorrow,” he said. “Everything is on the table. If you love your neighborhood bar, go there now,” he said, stressing that New Yorkers should only drop into their local if it was “under 50 percent occupancy” and “only there very briefly and socially distant.”

The calls come as bars and restaurants remained full in parts of the city throughout the weekend, even as Governor Andrew Cuomo implemented a rule that ordered all venues with seating of over 500 people to shut down immediately, and smaller venues to operate at 50 percent capacity.

Cuomo called on local law enforcement agencies to enforce the measure during an afternoon news conference, and said that if New York City bars and restaurants were not limiting their occupancy, “Then they were violating the law. if they’re doing that, then the NYPD should come in and shut them down. Now, if your question is should we get more aggressive in the shutdowns, that’s something we’re looking at, and you look at those numbers every day, and there’s a knob, and you turn the knob, higher or lower, depending on what you see.”

“We need a different strategy, and we need to be more aggressive,” said City Comptroller Scott Stringer. My view is let’s be transparent and responsible, but let’s begin to slowly shut the city down.”

Corey Johnson, the speaker of the New York City Council, echoed Stringer’s call, calling for only grocery stores, banks, bodegas, and pharmacies to remain open, and restaurants if they can do pick up and delivery.
“We need to do this, or we’ll do it later after the damage is much worse,” he wrote on Twitter.

The move comes as two hard hit European nations, Spain and France implemented draconian quarantine rules as coronavirus cases spiked in each country.

In Spain, all residents are required to stay home in their homes unless they need to buy food, see a doctor or help someone in need, or have special permission to go to work. In France all restaurants, bars, cafés, movie theaters, and other “non-indispensable businesses” were ordered to close. Italy has been in a virtual quarantine for a week.

Despite calls for similar measures in New York, Cuomo said he wanted to avoid implementing them. If stores closed, he said, people would just do their shopping in New Jersey or Connecticut or nearby states. He added that no city can quarantine unless state government allows it, and that “I will not allow any quarantine of any jurisdiction in the state, so that is not going to happen. People use the expression ‘close down NYC,’ meaning a geographic quarantine” where people are unable to enter or leave, “but there is no discussion of closing down New York City.”

Such a move for an American city would be almost impossible to enforce, requiring state police to be posted at city entrance and exit points, evaluating stated criteria for entering or exiting and requiring those just passing through to use an alternative route.

Still, the governor urged people to use common sense as the crisis worsens.
“By the way, people actually react reasonably and responsibly,” he said. “And people say ‘You know what, I’m not going to go into a bar with a hundred other people bumping up against me. Because it’s too high a risk to have a martini. I can have a martini at home.’”

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NYC Moves Toward Closing All Bars and Eat-in Restaurants