Restaurants throughout much of the state will be allowed to increase their capacity to 75% as of March 19, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Sunday during a conference call with reporters.
And local restaurant owners were thrilled.
“It’s certainly in the right direction,” said Russell Salvatore, owner of Russell’s Steaks, Chops & More and the Salvatore Grand Hotel on Transit Road. “It’s certainly going to be a help for restaurants. They’re all practicing the social distancing and that. We’re all looking forward to the 100%, and everyone’s looking forward to getting rid of the masks.”
Salvatore said he’s had to turn away some business on the weekends, when “people are coming out,” but “Monday to Thursday is very quiet.”
“On the weekend, we can use the 75%,” he said. “On Monday through Thursday, we’re not even getting 50%, so it doesn’t affect our business at all.”
Paul Santora, one of the area’s most vocal critics of the state’s capacity limits, agreed.
State Supreme Court Justice Henry J. Nowak on Wednesday granted the restaurants' request for a preliminary injunction to prevent the state from enforcing the Covid-19 restriction.
“It’s just another step in the direction where everything we’ve been fighting for and everything we’ve been doing is correct,” said the owner of Santora’s Pizza Pub and Grill. “The country as a whole has done what it needed to do to protect us, but we control an environment that works for everybody.”
The expanded capacity, up from 50%, will apply to restaurants in the state outside of New York City, where capacity will remain at 35%.
State legislators have the power to overturn the governor’s decision within the next five days, and if Covid-19 numbers take a turn for the worse, Cuomo said, he could reverse course.
As of Sunday, though, Covid-19 hospitalizations and fatalities were the lowest they have been since early December.
“The numbers are down,” Cuomo said. “When the numbers are down, we adjust the economic reopening valve.”
Two dozen Buffalo area restaurants submitted court affidavits this week detailing more than $10 million in financial losses for 2020 and 856 job cuts since March.
All of the same safety precautions will remain in place in restaurants.
For the first time since Dec. 9, the statewide number of Covid-19 patients in an intensive care unit fell below 1,000, at 999.
The number of Covid-19 patients in the hospital – 4,789 – was the lowest since Dec. 6, and 59 people in the state died on Saturday from Covid-19, also the lowest since that date.
In Western New York, the positivity rate Saturday was 1.99% among people tested for Covid-19, compared with 3.19% statewide.
Cuomo also gave high marks to the state’s vaccination program. So far, 5.5 million doses have been administered over 12 weeks. The 24-hour vaccination sites at places including Yankee Stadium, the Javits Center and the New York State Fairgrounds have been very successful, he said.
“We were worried no one would want to get a vaccine in the middle of the night,” the governor said. “When we opened them, they were filled in six or seven hours.”
Because of the accelerated vaccine production, the state needs to prepare to administer 850,000 doses this week, the governor said.
He praised the federal stimulus package, which includes $12.5 billion in aid for the state – a welcome amount, but one that falls short of the $15 billion that Cuomo had said was needed.
Because the federal aid falls short, he said, tax increases for the wealthy are on the table.
He cautioned that, while the federal aid would be crucial in helping the state regain its footing in the aftermath of Covid-19, it will be a one-time infusion of money.
“It’s a one-shot. It’s a sugar high,” Cuomo said. “This is not a sustainable level of spending. This is basically an emergency relief bill.”
News Business Reporter Jonathan D. Epstein contributed to this story.