This story was reported by Lisa L. Colangelo, Vera Chinese and Dandan Zou. It was written by Colangelo.
Restaurants on Long Island and across most of New York State will be allowed to operate at 75% capacity starting March 19, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Sunday.
Cuomo also said he would sign a bill passed by the State Legislature last week that curtails the broad executive powers he has used to implement policy during the COVID-19 pandemic
The loosening of restrictions on indoor dining comes as the number of new COVID-19 cases statewide continued to fall following a spike after the holiday season.
"When the numbers are down, we adjust the economic reopening," Cuomo said during a telephone briefing with reporters.
Capacity at New York City restaurants will remain at 35%. Restaurant capacity everywhere else in the state is currently limited to 50%.
Of the 227,768 COVID-19 test results reported to the state on Saturday, there were 6,789 positive cases for a daily positivity rate of 2.98%. The daily positivity rate on Long Island was higher at 4.5%. The new cases included 676 in Nassau County and 618 in Suffolk County.
In addition, 59 people died from COVID-19. Cuomo said that was the lowest one-day count since Dec. 6. Five of the fatalities were in Nassau and five in Suffolk.
Eateries moving to 75% capacity
When announcing that New York eateries outside the city could serve at 75% capacity starting March 19, he pointed out that restaurants in Massachusetts moved to 100% capacity on March 1 and Connecticut will follow suit on March 19.
But if the number of cases ticks up, the state's reopening date could be changed, he said.
Anthony Nigrel general manager at Drifters Kitchen and Bar in Ridge on Sunday said he welcomed the relaxed regulations.
"That’s awesome for all the employees that have been out of work and who have limited hours and have been struggling," he said. "It will be such a boon for the community, for all the workers from the cooks to the bus boys to the servers. For everybody involved from the top to the bottom."
It will also mean less wait times for customers at the 140-seat restaurant that opened in June.
"The added 25% should cut down on that and give a better experience," he said.
In a statement, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said local restaurants "have demonstrated that they know how to reopen safely."
Roland Mizaku, manager of Piccolo Mondo Ristorante in Huntington, said the increased capacity will allow him to add five more tables, meaning more volume for his business, more hours and tips for his staff and less wait time for his customers on weekends.
"We are surviving so far. It’s [been] a tough time," Mizaku said. " … The spring — we can’t wait. Now I’m watching the forecast for [the coming week], it’s going to be warmer. So we are getting ready for some of the new specials on the menu, like the spring specials. We are all excited."
Danny Pepi, general manager at Vincent's Clam Bar in Carle Place, said he is glad he can accommodate more customers instead of having to turn them away.
"There’s definitely a lot of guests that I have to tell ‘no’ to due to the capacity restraints," Pepi said. "I could tell them ‘yes’ now. … It helps me out in not saying ‘no’ to people, which I really don’t like doing. I’m more of a ‘yes’ type of guy."
A halt on pandemic powers
The bill Cuomo pledged to sign blocks him from issuing any new directives regarding COVID-19. He has issued almost 60 since the pandemic started one year ago.
It also gives the legislature power to revoke a governor’s declaration of an emergency.
Both Republicans and fellow Democratic lawmakers have said Cuomo used his emergency powers during the pandemic to wield too much control over policy. They have also pointed to ongoing controversy regarding the administration withholding of data on nursing home deaths from COVID-19 and allegations of sexual harassment against Cuomo from several women, including former employees.
Ramping up vaccinations
Meanwhile, about 10 million New Yorkers are currently eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and state figures show more than 5.5 million doses have been administered across the state.
Officials said 9% of New Yorkers have received both doses of the vaccine and more than 18% of New Yorkers have received at least one dose.
Of the 774,570 first and second doses sent to Long Island, 660,996 have been administered.
Cuomo said people are making appointments around the clock at the 24-hour mass vaccination sites and more than 13,000 doses were administered during a 24-hour period at the Javits Center in Manhattan on Saturday. He said he believes it is the largest number of vaccines delivered over a 24-hour period at a single location in the nation.
This week, about 850,000 vaccines could be administered throughout the state, which could be "an all-time record for us," the governor said, adding the state is planning to create more 24-hour mass vaccination sites.