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NYC indoor dining capacity increasing to 50%, Cuomo says

Restaurant workers and patrons share indoor space at

Restaurant workers and patrons share indoor space at a restaurant in New York City earlier this month.  Credit: John Nacion/STAR MAX/IPx/John Nacion/STAR MAX/IPx

New York City’s cap on indoor dining will expand beginning March 19 to 50% of an eatery’s ordinary capacity, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Wednesday, in a further loosening of last year's restrictions meant to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

The current maximum capacity for indoor dining in the city is 35%. Cuomo’s announcement was timed with that of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, whose state also will increase capacity from 35% to 50%.

Across the rest of New York State on March 19, the maximum capacity will increase to 75%.

Restrictions on dining began last March, soon after the first cases of COVID-19 were discovered in the state, and for part of 2020, indoor restaurant dining was totally banned.

Under Cuomo's policy change, the indoor capacity of La Palapa, a Mexican restaurant in Manhattan's East Village, will rise — at 35%, it's 44 — but that won't make a big difference for owner Barbara Sibley.

"I know that it makes a big difference for some folks. For me, I'm pretty at capacity, with the allotment for social distancing. … to do it safely, you can't cram people in," she said as a handful of lunchtime patrons dined inside.

The eatery will still need to obey pandemic-mitigation measures, such as social distancing and barriers.

Sibley noted that the added capacity allows her to let people wait inside for a table, particularly during the cold weather. Currently, every person's presence, except for staff, counts against the restaurant's maximum capacity.

Also Wednesday, Dr. Jay Varma, Mayor Bill de Blasio's senior adviser, said the so-called New York City variant of the coronavirus, known as B.1.526, "is probably more infectious than older strains of the virus."

It's possibly similar to the variant linked to the United Kingdom, "but we’re not certain about this yet," Varma added.

He said an early analysis showed the New York City variant didn’t cause more harmful disease and wasn’t any more resistant to the vaccines.

About 39% of all samples sequenced by the city’s health lab in the most recent week are the city strain, compared with 31% the week before, said Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi. The so-called UK variant was about 12% of the most recent samples, compared to 8% the week before, he said.

Asked about New York City’s still relatively high, and plateauing, rate of infection — above 6% of tests, according to city statistics — de Blasio said: "While we all have been waging a successful battle against the coronavirus, with vaccination and all these other steps, the coronavirus has come up with these new variations, which create an additional challenge."

Still, said Dr. Mitchell Katz, head of the city’s public health and hospitals system: "I am very pleased to see how the deaths are decreasing, and the serious hospitalizations are decreasing, despite the fact that the variants are increasing."

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