Restaurants and bars, including Demarchelier Cafe and Bar in Greenport, can stay...

Restaurants and bars, including Demarchelier Cafe and Bar in Greenport, can stay open an hour later, starting Sunday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said. Credit: Raychel Brightman

Restaurants and bars can stay open an hour later, until 11 p.m. instead of 10 p.m., Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Friday, as COVID-19 infection and hospitalization levels continue to drop statewide.

The new rules go into effect on Sunday, Valentine’s Day.

"Our decisions are based on science and data, and we adjust as the virus adjusts. The infection rate and hospitalizations have continued to significantly decline," Cuomo said in a statement.

Cuomo had imposed the restaurant and bar restrictions to keep down spread of the virus.

Indoor dining returned to New York City — at 25% capacity — on Friday for the first time in months. Restaurants in the rest of the state have been operating at limited capacity.

Restaurant owners in the city have complained that the shutdown was devastating their businesses.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran called the curfew extension "good news."

"I have been a staunch advocate for our businesses, restaurants and schools and this is a positive step forward in the recovery of our county," she said.

At Blackbird in Wantagh, a small bistro known for its tasting menu and craft cocktails, the extended curfew will be a boon to a place where the current restrictions reduced capacity to 25 seats, co-owner Frank Ubriaco said.

"It's long overdue. It's a whole 'nuther seating," and brings the restaurant back in step with its pre-COVID weekend closing time, Ubriaco said.

While Ubriaco hasn't noticed disquiet among Blackbird's regular diners, he said the extra hour will help calm nerves among staff.

"If anything, there has been more anxiety on the restaurant side, to get everyone out by 10," he said, and fielding takeout orders can slow the line down. "If the kitchen gets backed up, and are still putting dishes out at 9 or 9:30, there's more anxiety."

Before 2020, restaurateur Lisa Harris said there hadn't really been a late-night crowd at Prohibition Kitchen, her Port Jefferson restaurant, but nevertheless she observed diners adjusting their schedules and habits over the last few months, in response to the curfew.

"I noticed that people would come out at 8:15, and we would be empty by the time 10 p.m. rolled around," she said. "But we did a nice, solid [weekend] brunch business. People were saying, 'Well, if I can't go out at night, I'll go and drink bottomless mimosas [at brunch].' "

Prohibition Kitchen remained open amid the restrictions with 28 indoor seats and an increased takeout business. "We'll gain that extra turn [of tables], and that will be huge. With that extra hour, I think we will see people come out later and stay out later," she said.

Over the last few weeks, Harris has noticed a 10% week-over-week increase in receipts. "It's truly promising," she said. "It's not what we're used to, but it's a step in the right direction."

Cuomo noted the curfew change comes as the state is also partially reopening stadiums and large venues to professional sports games and concerts at locations including the Barclays Center, Madison Square Garden and Nassau Coliseum. The venues must be able to accommodate at least 10,000 people and can operate at 10% capacity, with all spectators required to test negative for the virus beforehand.

Those events can begin Feb. 23.

Cuomo made that decision after the state successfully allowed almost 7,000 fans to attend each of the Buffalo Bills' playoff games last month under similar rules. It is part of his effort to safely reopen sports, music and cultural events following the worst days and months of the pandemic, and as vaccines become more widely available.

Positivity levels continue to drop

COVID-19 infection positivity levels continued to drop statewide following a spike during the holiday season that started declining in mid-January.

The statewide daily infection level was 3.54% in test results from Thursday, while the seven-day average was 4.04%. The seven-day average on Long Island was 5.08%, the only region in the state above 5%. New York City’s level was 4.04%.

The number of new confirmed cases was 748 in Nassau County, 810 in Suffolk County, and 4,195 in New York City.

Across the state, a total of 135 people, including eight in Nassau and 13 in Suffolk, died Thursday of COVID-19-related causes. The number of people hospitalized with the virus dropped by 274, to 7,068.

Meanwhile, state education officials announced Friday they were requesting federal waivers allowing them to cancel standardized student testing for the second year in a row, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The cancellations, if approved, would apply to state English and math tests administered in the spring in grades three through eight, as well as to Regents exams, which are usually given in high schools in June and August.

In arguing that the tests could not be fairly administered, the state Education Department cited survey results from October showing that more than 52% of students in New York City opted for remote instruction, as opposed to in-school lessons. Large numbers of students on Long Island and statewide also chose to go remote.

The administration of President Joe Biden has not yet agreed to approve waivers wholesale. Biden's nominee for education secretary, Miguel Cardona, suggested during a recent confirmation hearing that assessments might be a vital means of determining which students need federal financial support in catching up with their studies.

Vaccine clinic for veterans

The Northport VA Medical Center will offer COVID-19 vaccines without appointment Saturday to qualifying veterans, facility public affairs officer Chad Cooper said.

The walk-in clinic will open at 10 a.m. and will be held at the VA campus on 79 Middleville Rd.

Veterans must be 65 or older and have received treatment at the VA or a VA-operated clinic within the past two years. They also must be registered with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and have an active VA account.

The number of doses that will be on hand was not available. The facility has been administering 200 to 400 doses of the vaccine a day, Cooper said.

With Nicholas Spangler and John Hildebrand


Who qualifies for COVID-19 shots?

The State of New York has expended its eligibility list for vaccines against COVID-19 several times, expanding the groups of people included in the phases. This is a summary of the eligible groups. The following are the qualifying categories, as revised on March 29.

Group in Phase 1A

The state said about 2.1 million state residents belong in this group, including:

  • Health care workers at hospitals who interact with patients.
  • Residents and staff at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
  • Dentists, psychologists and others deemed health care workers with direct contact with patients.
  • Employees of Federally Qualified Health Centers.
  • EMT volunteers and staff.
  • Coroners, medical examiners, some funeral workers.
  • Staff and residents of state facilities for people with developmental disabilities, mental health care and addiction services.
  • Employees at urgent care centers.
  • Individuals administering COVID-19 vaccines, including local health department staff.
  • Staff at ambulatory centers.
  • Home care and hospice workers.
  • Residents and staff at other congregate care facilities.

Group in Phase 1B

The state estimated about 3.2 million residents belong in this group, including:

  • People 75 years of age and older.
  • Teachers and education workers, including in-person college instructors, substitute teachers, student teachers, school administrators, paraprofessional staff, support staff, contractors in schools and bus drivers.
  • First responders, including police; firefighters; state police; sheriff’s offices; county, town and village police departments, and other law enforcement offices.
  • Public safety workers, including dispatchers and technicians.
  • Public transit workers, including airport, railroad, subway, bus, ferry and Port Authority employees.
  • Corrections officers.
  • Other sworn and civilian personnel, such as court and peace officers.
  • Grocery store workers dealing with the public.
  • Individuals living in homeless shelters.

Following federal recommendations:

Added at the discretion of local governments:

  • Taxi drivers.
  • Restaurant workers.
  • Residents of facilities for developmentally disabled people.
  • Hotel workers who interact with the public.

Other expansions of eligibility:

  • State residents age 60 and older (Since March 10, 2021).
  • “Public-facing” government and public employees (Since March 17, 2021).
  • Workers for not-for-profit organizations who provide “public-facing” services (Since March 17, 2021).
  • Building service workers who are “public-facing” employees (Since March 17, 2021).
  • State residents age 50 and older (Since March 23, 2021).

Since March 30, 2021:

Since April 6, 2021:

SOURCE: New York State, Northwell Health.

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