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Cuomo ends most virus orange and yellow zones; says plan coming for indoor dining in NYC

WXXI's Karen DeWitt reports that Gov. Andrew Cuomo is lifting some pandemic-related restrictions on businesses.

Credit Governor Cuomo's office

Saying the COVID-19 infection rate in New York has begun declining, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is lifting some restrictions in nearly all orange and yellow microcluster zones that were aimed at controlling the spread of the coronavirus. He’s also developing a plan to allow limited indoor dining in New York City.

Cuomo and his aides developed the microcluster hot zones last fall as an attempt to contain the further spread of the coronavirus. But in recent months, businesses in those zones complained that they had to endure more restrictions than other areas where the positivity rate for the virus was even higher.

Cuomo is ending the orange zone designations for areas, including parts of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Westchester, and ending most yellow zones, with the exception of five remaining microclusters: two in the Bronx, and one each in Queens, Newburgh and the Washington Heights section of Manhattan.

Cuomo said the post-holiday surge in new infections seems to be over.

“Every curve statewide is down,” Cuomo said. “That’s good news.”

Businesses will still have to adhere to continuing statewide restrictions, according to Cuomo aide Gareth Rhodes. That includes a limit of 50% capacity for hair salons and other personal care services, and 33% occupancy for gyms. Gatherings of more than 50 people are still prohibited in public spaces, and no more than 10 people area allowed to gather in a private residence. 

Some Rochester restaurant owners were pleased about the governor's decision to lift restrictions, but had concerns about a remaining rule that requires bars and restaurants to close at 10 p.m.

Kelly Metras owns Nox and Salena's and is the president of the Rochester Chapter of the New York State Restaurant Association.  She’s optimistic that the changes will help Salena's, but Nox relies on late-night bar business for most of its revenue. 

Additionally, she said the problem that the industry is facing is larger than regulations.

“Our business is reliant on people coming out and spending their money and engaging and letting us entertain them," she said. "They're not comfortable doing that, which I totally understand.”

She said the bright side is that having her dining rooms open means taking on less debt to stay afloat.

Karrie Laughton, who owns Lux Lounge on Souuth Avenue, said while she can reopen now, she's not sure that she should. Like Nox, her business makes most of its money after 9 p.m.

“I’m worried about making a bad decision. That does worry me,” Laughton said. “Although, at the same time, I have to make some kind of decision because I have employees that want to get back to work. That’s my biggest motivation, to be honest with you.”

She said she may take the risk in a few weeks for the sake of her employees.

Cuomo said by week’s end, he will release a plan to end a months-long ban on indoor dining in New York City, which the restaurant industry said has led to mass layoffs and numerous temporary or permanent business closures. 

“I fully understand how difficult it is that they are closed, not just for the restaurants but all the people who are employed there,” the governor said. “On the flip side is how fast this virus can take off.”

The New York State Restaurant Association, in a tweet, said the decision will have a “positive impact” and credited restaurants’ efforts on social media to convince Cuomo to change his mind.

The New York City Hospitality Alliance said in a statement that they are happy the governor “heard the voice of New York City’s decimated restaurant industry.” 

Cuomo admitted that the state, which is seeking a $15 billion bailout from the federal government to help balance its budget, could use the extra sales tax revenue.

The governor also applauded President Joe Biden’s announcement Tuesday that states will receive 16% more vaccine doses than they have been getting, and that they will be notified of the number of doses three weeks in advance.

“Now we can actually plan,” Cuomo said. 

Cuomo said he’s also encouraged that the National Guard will now be made available to help states set up mass vaccination sites, and he’s proposing that one be set up at Yankee Stadium. 

He continued to blame former President Donald Trump’s administration for glitches in New York’s vaccine signup programs, saying not enough vaccine was ordered to reach all 7 million New Yorkers who are now eligible.

Biden has said it could take six months for production to catch up and for enough doses to be available for everyone who wants to be vaccinated.

Copyright 2021 WXXI News