Salons, Shopping and Safety, Oh, My! NYC Ready for Next Phase of Covid-19 Reopening

Dogs greet each other another nose-to-nose while people gather on a street in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York on May 29. The street has been blocked off from traffic to let residents gather in open spaces with some social distancing. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

MANHATTAN (CN) — In-store retail is coming back to New York City next week, Mayor de Blasio announced Thursday, certifying that all five boroughs are on track to enter the next phase of loosened coronavirus rules.

In addition to offices, salons, barbershops and the like, Phase 2 will also see the start of restaurant seating on New York City’s sidewalks and parking lanes while indoor dining remains prohibited.

At the Thursday press conference, de Blasio signed off an executive order that lets restaurants use curb-lane seating through Labor Day, and sidewalk seating through October, as part of his initiative called Open Restaurants. Bars and restaurants can also serve socially distanced patrons in backyards and patios during Phase 2.

The mayor said the city has made a streamlined self-certification application for bars and restaurants, which will go live Friday. “It will be online. It will take very few clicks to get done,” he said. “You say, hey, ‘I’m ready to do this, I meet these standards,’ click send, you’re in. You’re ready to go for Monday. The application form is being finalized.”

The mayor also noted his office has urged business improvement districts and local civic associations to work with local businesses to utilize the various pedestrian plazas that the neighborhood groups manage.

Screenshot from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s press conference Thursday, June 18.

De Blasio said the city will have social distancing ambassadors deployed throughout the city over the weekend, distributing face masks and hand sanitizer to the public.

“We want to make it work; we want to get money back in the pockets of restaurant owners, but please everyone respect the rules in the name of health and safety,” the mayor said. “Because the last thing we want is for this disease to make a comeback, and that’ll set us all back, and we’ll be watching all the time.”

Starting in July, restaurants and bars will be allowed seating on certain closed-off sidewalks, streets and plazas under Open Streets, de Blasio said.

Members of the City Council and NYC Hospitality Alliance have been vocally calling on the city to implement an open-streets plan solution that uses available outdoor spaces to get restaurants and bars safely back in business during the phased reopening.

Andrew Rigie, executive director for New York City Hospitality Alliance, joined de Blasio at the Thursday morning briefing.

“We know it is going to be a long road to recovery, and when restaurants are permitted to start opening indoors, it’s going to be under reduced occupancy. So, they’re not going to be able to generate a hundred percent of their sales indoors,” Rigie said. “So, we needed to get creative with outdoor space, and this plan that has been implemented today is so critical in getting the support to businesses so they can stand a fighting chance and coming back, rebuilding our industry, bringing New Yorkers from all walks of life back to work and creating the city that we remember, and it’s important.”

Screenshot from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s press conference Thursday, June 18.

At a separate press conference in Manhattan on Thursday, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed off an executive order to increase the state’s enforcement capacity by declaring that the New York State Liquor Authority can make immediate suspension of liquor licenses for violations of the reopening guidelines. “The issue going into Phase 2 or Phase 3 is compliance by people and enforcement by local government,” Cuomo said Thursday.

“We’ve made great, great progress, I want to make sure we don’t slide back,” the governor added. “I want make sure we don’t get careless.”

Cuomo also signed another executive order Thursday that gives bars responsibility to enforce the compliance rules and guidelines on the sidewalk area immediately outside of their establishments.

Cuomo said the burden of enforcing these guidelines is on the local government because the state liquor authority lacks the manpower to conduct compliance investigations statewide.

“As we go through the phases, the responsibility of the local governments increases,” he said. “The state cannot do enforcement on these local issues all across the state.”

Screenshot from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s press conference Thursday, June 18.

Describing himself as a “cool dude in a loose mood,” Cuomo cheerfully announced the city’s lowest daily percentage for positive test to date since the Covid-19 crisis began: on Wednesday the state conducted 68,000 tests, with just 0.9% testing positive.

Cuomo confirmed 618 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, bringing the statewide total to 385,760.

“So that is just great news, and that’s why I’m in such a happy-go-lucky mood,” he said, noting the state also continued to see the lowest daily number of hospitalizations.”

Cuomo fumed at political polarization in state responses to the virus across the country, when more than 20 states are seeing increases in viral spread and adding tens of thousands to projected national death tolls.

“That’s why I’m saying, ‘Wake up, America.’ Look at what they’re telling you,” he said. “This is not rhetorical, conceptual, hyperbolic — they told you, based on what you’re doing last week, 30,000 more people are going to die.

“There are two different visions that we’re talking about: One is based on science and facts, one is based on political ideology and public relations in politics,” Cuomo added. “And the results are in: New York, it’s working, we’re saving lives, the virus is down. The rest of the nation, it’s going up.”

Cuomo, who announced yesterday that Friday would be the last of his daily briefings since the coronavirus crisis began, thanked the New York media corps that have been covering more than 100 days of daily press conferences.

Calling the coronavirus “the most complicated, most stressful, most consequential government issue,” Cuomo said 59 million people tuned into the daily briefings since they began. “We only have 19 million people in the state of New York,” he noted.

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