ALBANY, N.Y. (WROC) — Following a State Supreme Court ruling in Erie County on indoor dining Wednesday, New York state has changed its guidance temporarily for COVID-19 orange zones in regards to restaurants.
“A court decision yesterday temporarily granted a select few restaurants located within an orange zone in Erie County the ability to resume indoor dining under the rules governing yellow zones,” said Kumiki Gibson, Counsel to Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a statement Thursday. “We are reviewing the decision. While that process is ongoing, to ensure uniformity and fairness, all restaurants operating in orange zones can now operate under rules governing yellow zones. We disagree with the court’s decision and its impact on public health as Federal CDC data clearly demonstrates indoor dining increases COVID-19 spread. From the start of this pandemic, the State has acted based on facts and the advice of public health experts, and we will continue that approach.”
Yellow zone rules for indoor dining requires 50% capacity, six feet between tables, all staff to wear masks, and customers to wear masks while not seated. Other rules include four people maximum per table, and all bars and restaurants are to close at 10 p.m.
This change comes less than 24 hours after a State Supreme Court ruled some restaurants in Erie County’s orange zone could operate under yellow zone rules (full ruling below).
As a preliminary injunction, the motion is temporary, and a hearing is set for January 19.
Owners of two local restaurants which were included in the Erie County lawsuit — Veneto Wood Fired Pizza on East Avenue, and Highland Park Diner on the corner of S. Goodman and S. Clinton — say this is a critical opportunity to prove this industry can operate safely.
“It’s a huge victory. I’m still a little numb about it,” Veneto owner Don Swartz told News 8. “Now more than ever, the microscope is on us, so we need to make sure we’re doing the best we can.”
“Let us do what we we’re doing before,” said Highland Park Diner owner Van Zissis “50%capacity, we had barriers, we had partitions, we put in filters.”
In recent weeks, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, as well as the Democratic caucus in the Monroe County Legislature, have asked the state government to change the restrictions to allow indoor dining in New York state’s COVID-19 orange zones.
Due to a high positivity rate for coronavirus, portions of Monroe County have been under an orange zone designation since late November, which prohibits indoor dining.
Caucus members said the zone restrictions are unfair, in that businesses in the orange can’t open for indoor dining while residents could drive just a few minutes away to eat out at businesses in the yellow zone.
The state has not updated its zone designations and subsequent restrictions in weeks, even as Monroe County’s whole positivity rate has been consistently twice as high as it was when the initial orange zone was designated.
State Supreme Court ruling
New York State Restaurant association: Rochester Chapter statement
Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.
Watch the full briefing from Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and Monroe County Director of Public Health Dr. Michael Mendoza: