NEW YORK (Reuters) – Scenes of merrymakers gathering outside bars prompted the governor of New York, the state hardest hit along with New Jersey by the coronavirus pandemic, to urge local officials and businesses on Monday to strictly enforce reopening guidelines.
“To the local governments I say, ‘Do your job,’” Governor Andrew Cuomo told reporters. Over the weekend he criticized New York City street crowds outside bars and asked people to adhere to social distancing rules of six feet (two meters).
A video circulated widely online showed scores of people drinking outside bars on St. Mark’s Place in Manhattan’s East Village at dusk on Friday. Some had gathered around a sidewalk jazz band. Some people wore face coverings, but many did not.
“Don’t make me come down there,” Cuomo said on Saturday in response to the clip.
Both Cuomo and neighboring New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said they were keeping open the option of reimposing restrictions if officials fail to stop large public gatherings that risk leading to a second wave of infections.
“I hope to God we don’t have to,” Murphy said during a visit to the Atlantic City boardwalk when asked about the possibility of shutting down businesses again.
New York and New Jersey between them account for more than a third of the nearly 116,000 U.S. deaths. Both have followed health guidelines for reopening businesses while all measures of infection drop – new cases, deaths, hospitalizations and positive rates among those getting tested.
Cuomo said on Sunday his state received 25,000 complaints of violations of social distancing and other emergency requirements, mostly in Manhattan and in the Hamptons, affluent beach communities on the east end of Long Island.
He said the state, which issues liquor licenses, would send inspectors to restaurants and bars flouting the guidelines, with the authority to pull licenses.
ALCOHOL ON NYC STREETS
With the easing of the lockdown but in-restaurant dining banned, New York has allowed wine and cocktails to be sold alongside takeaway food. Although laws against drinking alcohol in public remain in place, the change has turned some streets into mini-carnivals on weekends as New Yorkers sip drinks on sidewalks or carry them to nearby parks.
The executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance trade group, Andrew Rigie, said restaurateurs needed guidance on how they can use sidewalks and parking spaces near their businesses.
“It’s a dire and unwinnable situation,” Rigie said. “Restaurateurs … need money coming in and they’re trying to do it in a safe way, but it’s become very difficult for them to control people on the streets.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who canceled public appearances on Monday due to illness, has also voiced concern about crowds gathering in parks and outside bars.
Most states are not considering a second shutdown as they face budget shortfalls and double-digit unemployment. Many went ahead with reopenings before meeting the government infection rate guidelines for doing so.
Scott Gottlieb, the former Food and Drug Administration director who has advised the White House on the coronavirus, said on Monday that flare-ups needed to be addressed with aggressive contact tracing and targeted responses.
“We’re not going to be able to shut down the country again this summer. We’re probably not going to be able to shut down the country again this fall,” he said on CNBC.
One of the worst affected counties in Oklahoma is Tulsa, where President Donald Trump will hold his first campaign rally since early March on Saturday. Those attending will have to agree not to hold the campaign responsible if they contract COVID-19.
Reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington, Jonathan Allen and Maria Caspani in New York, Lisa Shumaker in Chicago; Writing by Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Howard Goller