This story was reported by Robert Brodsky, Scott Eidler, Bart Jones and John Valenti. It was written by Jones.
State authorities have suspended the liquor licenses of four bars and restaurants — including one in Deer Park — for failing to adhere to social distancing and other mandates aimed at controlling spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Tuesday.
The state is stepping up efforts to enforce its rules against such businesses attracting crowds, Cuomo said, because of the lack of local efforts to make them comply. The state never authorized bars to reopen, he said, but some chose to do so when outdoor dining was authorized in New York.
"I'm sorry it's come to this, but it's a dangerous situation," Cuomo said during a telephonic conference with reporters. “Bars are congregations of people milling about, and that is exactly what we are trying to avoid."
The four businesses are The BRIK Astoria and M.I.A. Restaurant Lounge in Astoria, Queens; Maspeth Pizza in Maspeth, Queens; and the Secrets Gentlemen's Club in Deer Park.
The New York State Liquor Authority has suspended 27 licenses and issued 410 charges at watering holes where people were mingling in violation of measures to prevent exposure to the coronavirus.
Some of those businesses, Cuomo said, should not even be operating, because the state has authorized outdoor dining, not the return of bars — even though the state issues the same license for both kinds of establishments.
"We said outdoor dining was allowed and we facilitated outdoor dining to help restaurants," he added. " Outdoor dining is not to operate a bar. … The word is 'dining.' You don’t dine when you go to a restaurant to drink. That is drinking."
'Secrets' club lost license
A state official said the Deer Park strip club lost its license following a July 17 undercover inspection by the State Liquor Authority and Suffolk County Police Department.
Jack Sterne, an administration spokesman, said investigators observed employees, dancers and club patrons not wearing face coverings. The female performers were seen sharing the same pole and giving lap dances — in violation of state guidelines for social distancing.
When the club’s owner was confronted with the allegations, he said the behavior started without his knowledge and consent, Sterne said.
But the owner, Sterne said, was apparently unaware that he already had been caught on video buying drinks for the undercover agents and boasting about circumventing the state’s guidelines and Cuomo’s executive orders.
Messages left with Secrets were not returned Tuesday.
The state’s largest association of bar and tavern owners praised Cuomo for cracking down on “bad actors” who are violating state regulations.
“We commend the governor and the liquor authority for their general and specific actions, and we encourage local police to provide to the Liquor Authority complaints about problem operators,” said Scott Wexler, executive director of the Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association.
He said the vast majority of bar and tavern owners are complying with the state laws, but that the “bad actors” are putting them all at risk because Cuomo may shut them down due to the violations and large crowds.
“There are obvious premises that are overcrowded, that aren’t even trying to enforce these rules, and they put all of us at risk,” he said. “If people are three deep at the bar, they’re not physically distant.”
He added: “I don’t know any of my members that think they can survive a second shutdown.”
He said scenes of overcrowded bars have appeared on social media.
“We want to see the rules enforced against the bad actors,” said Wexler, whose group represents 3,000 bars and taverns. The state has issued a total of 25,000 liquor licenses, he said.
Substantial confusion surrounds the question of bars, Wexler said. They were permitted to reopen in Phase 2 for outdoor service, and in Phase 3 for indoor service, he said, even though Cuomo said Tuesday the state never allowed bars to reopen.
Further clouding the issue, New York State does not issue separate liquor licenses for bars and restaurants — it is the same license.
Wexler said bars were allowed to operate at 50% capacity and if patrons maintained social distance from people they did not enter the premises with and wore masks.
That changed last week when Cuomo said businesses cannot serve alcohol unless they also serve food to a customer.
“There is definitely a lot of confusion,” Wexler said.
List of 'travel advisory' states grows
The governor also announced the list of states with high infection levels from which travelers need to self-quarantine 14 days when they come to New York grew by 10, for a total of 31.
The states added are Alaska, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, Virginia and Washington. Minnesota was dropped because its infection levels fell below the threshold.
States/regions in red are included on New York's travel advisory list as of Oct. 27, 2020. Guam and Puerto Rico, not pictured, are also on the list.
Cuomo said it is imperative other states get the virus under control, because it will inevitably travel here with people coming from those areas. Yet the numbers of confirmed cases of COVID-19 are now rising in 41 states, five months after the crisis started, he said.
“If the other parts of this country don’t get the infection rate under control, it’s going to come back to New York. It is inevitable. The virus travels," he said. "It will travel from California and from Texas and from Arizona and from Florida.”
He acknowledged the self-quarantine order is not fully effective, since many people simply ignore it.
New York continued to see low levels of new infections, with 855 of 66,169 people tested Monday being confirmed positive, for a 1.29% infection level statewide. The level was 1.4% on both Long Island and in New York City.
The number of new confirmed cases of COVID-19 was 51 in Nassau, 79 in Suffolk and 391 in New York City.
Cuomo called it "a significant milestone" that the state registered a low of two deaths from coronavirus-related causes Monday, down from more than 800 at the outbreak's spring peak. "Obviously, that's two deaths too many," he said.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said coronavirus-related hospitalizations "continue to hit all-time lows since the peak of the pandemic in Nassau County, with 36 COVID-19 patients, down one from the day prior."
Curran said many of the positive coronavirus test results are coming from residents returning from out-of-state trips. "The ability of this virus to so easily cross state lines reinforces the importance of practicing safe social distancing, including wearing masks and self-quarantining when required," she said.