Rochester Mayor asks Gov. Cuomo to allow indoor dining for COVID-19 orange zones

Food and Drink

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren has asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo to alter the current COVID-19 guidelines to allow indoor dining at orange zone restaurants.

Restaurants in parts of the City of Rochester, as well as the towns of Irondequoit, Brighton, and Gates, have not allowed indoor dining since the COVID-19 orange zone designation was made in late November.

MORE | Check which COVID-19 zone you’re in with this online tool

Mayor Warren is hoping the state changes its policy, writing in part:

“I am asking you to reconsider your policy to forbid indoor dining for restaurants in Orange Zones.

In Rochester, we have learned restaurants play a minor role in driving COVID-19 infection rates. This indicates indoor dining in restaurants with appropriate safety measures and occupancy limits would not cause an overall increase.

Most significantly, the current policy disproportionately affects city restaurant owners and their employees—many of whom are of color and have already bore the greatest burden of the pandemic. Most of Rochester is an Orange Zone, while many suburban towns are in a Yellow Zone where restaurants remain open. City residents are at a disadvantage to survive the pandemic because many of them are family owned, non-franchise businesses. Our residents, like with the gyms and beauty and barber salons, had no alternative but to circumvent businesses in their own neighborhood to patronize suburban businesses. Many of our businesses, especially the women and people of color businesses, are having a hard time surviving under the current regulations.”

The Mayor continued:

“Restaurants play a unique role in our urban economy, they often serve as the anchors of our commercial business districts and even influence neighborhood housing values. In total, Rochester has nearly 7,000 people working in our restaurants and many of our restaurants enjoy institutional, landmark status in our neighborhoods, and their closure would have ripple effects across the entire city economy.”

Members of the Democratic Caucus in the Monroe County Legislature said last week that the zone restrictions are unfair, in that businesses in the orange can’t open for indoor dining while residents can drive just a few minutes away to eat out at businesses in the yellow zone.

MORE | Monroe County legislators call on New York state to adjust COVID-19 zone policy for restaurants

The state has not updated its zone designations in weeks, even as Monroe County’s whole positivity rate has been steadily rising since late November when the zones were initiated.

Caucus members say restaurants in both zones are facing difficulties with the state’s restrictions, but orange zone businesses are being hit even hard — businesses like Jine’s Restaurant on Park Avenue which has temporarily closed.

“Jines is a beloved staple of Park Avenue for decades,” said Legislator Linda Hasma (D-23) in a press release. “This is a wake-up call that we must do more to protect our restaurants that are a big part of the identity and flavor of our neighborhoods.”

Caucus members say the state or federal government should compensate restaurants forced to close during the pandemic, and thy say the state should make all of Monroe County the same COVID-19 zone.

“It’s clear we could lose many of our restaurants by the end of the year. Let’s come up with a better way to protect the small businesses and public health,” said Minority Leader Yversha Roman (D-26).

Mayor Warren’s letter to Gov. Cuomo

Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.

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