Citing scofflaws, state resets restaurant restrictions

Eat, drink and be wary: Citing "significant evidence" that social-distancing rules are being ignored, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is cracking down on bars and restaurants in New York City and elsewhere around the state.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

You want fries with that? You better, if you plan to order a beer.

A menu of new pandemic-flavored rules handed down from Albany on Thursday sucks some of the flavor from New York’s celebrated pandemic recovery, with all statewide bars and restaurants – including those enjoying Phase Four privileges, such as eateries on Long Island – now limited to serving alcohol only to patrons who order food and dine on the premises (meaning no scotch-and-soda while waiting for your takeout).

Those premises, of course, must still adhere to a strict set of in-person guidelines, including face-mark regulations for customers and staff and service – including service for customers who belly up to the bar – limited to seated patrons who are socially distanced by six feet (or separated by physical barriers).

In New York City, which could enter Phase Four of its recovery process as soon as July 20, Albany is adopting an even more rigid stance. Citing “significant evidence” that social distancing and other Phase Three rules are being violated, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday introduced new indoor-dining regulations specifically for the Big Apple – including the Three Strikes and You’re Closed initiative, which will shut down any establishment racking up three New York Forward violations.

Andrew Cuomo: No stomach for rule-breakers.

The new rules are, in fact, even stricter than that: Bars and restaurants committing what the state called “egregious violations” can face the immediate suspension of their liquor licenses, prior to taking that third strike.

The crackdown on restaurants not adhering to the new normal comes on a day when New York continues to bask in a national glow, applauded for statewide efforts that – in stark contrast to the federal government’s slapdash response – grabbed the pandemic by the throat and forced the state’s infection rates from the highest in the land to among the lowest.

However, not all of New York’s pandemic news is good. While daily positivity rates among patients tested for COVID-19 continue to fall statewide, the state is doubling down on its efforts to prevent out-of-state travelers from sparking a new wave here, with new “enforcement teams” – combining health and police officials – greeting travelers from red-flagged states at regional airports with hefty fines and forced quarantines.

Meanwhile, the number of reported new COVID-19 cases in Suffolk County is slowly rising again – up to 66 new cases Wednesday, second in the state only to NYC’s 385.

That stubborn Suffolk County climb (Cuomo has specifically lamented a Fourth of July party in Holtsville reported to have significantly spread the disease), the out-of-town threat and those numerous big-city infractions are reminder enough that the pandemic is far from over, according to the governor.

“We need to remember our success fighting this virus is a function of our own actions,” Cuomo said Thursday. “Mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing – basic as they may seem – are critical to controlling the spread of this virus.

“Especially now that we are seeing spikes in cases throughout the country, this is not the time to let up, especially on compliance enforcement,” he added. “We know the prescription and we know it works.

“We just need to be smart and do it.”