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Governor loosens closing time restrictions for New York eateries

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo has further loosened coronavirus restrictions on New York restaurants as part of his efforts to reopen the state’s economy.

The Democratic governor said on Friday that restaurants and bars will now be able to stay open until 11 p.m. starting Sunday. The previous cutoff was 10 p.m.

The announcement comes after one earlier this week saying that restaurants could reopen indoor dining at 25% capacity starting Friday to go along with existing outdoor dining. Indoor dining had been prohibited since mid-December when COVID-19 cases started surging.

Cuomo had said industry groups representing restaurateurs had asked for the ban on indoor dining to be lifted in February to let them cash in on Valentine’s Day. He has also allowed New York City and counties statewide to vaccinate restaurant workers, though many county executives say they lack the supplies.

“Loosening the curfew will allow operators to comfortably seat guests at 9 p.m., bringing in business that had previously been cut off,” Melissa Fleischut, president and CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association, said in a statement.

Cuomo announced this week that large indoor and outdoor arenas and stadiums can reopen at 10% capacity, despite concern from public health experts about the safety of large indoor gatherings where people may be speaking loudly and eating. He has said the state will allow up to 150-guest weddings with COVID-19 testing by March 15, though counties and wedding venues are still awaiting state guidance.

The governor said Friday the state’s positivity rate on a seven-day average is the lowest since Nov. 30. Hospitals are seeing a slower decline in patients but reported 7,068 COVID-19 patients as of Thursday, down from 9,273 as of Jan. 19.

“If we keep the infections down and vaccinations up, we will continue to stay ahead in the footrace against this invisible enemy,” Cuomo said.

State health officials said New York has seen an overall drop in cases since a mid-January peak, but caution that COVID-19 is still widespread. More than half a million people have tested positive so far this year in New York, while hospitals and nursing homes have reported nearly 6,700 people have died.

“People don’t necessarily I think grasp how much COVID we were seeing in the fall and winter of this past year, and how bad we still are,” Byron Backenson, acting director of The New York State Department of Health’s division of bureau of communicable diseases, said Thursday in an online discussion with state health care providers.

New York now has the second-highest number of new COVID-19 cases per capita over the past seven days in the nation, trailing only South Carolina, according to data collected by The Associated Press.

And while much of the nation are seeing double-digit drops in new COVID-19 cases, New York is among 12 states where the seven-day average of new cases is roughly compared to seven days ago according to The COVID Tracking Project.

Cuomo has stressed that New York’s numbers reflect that it does more testing than any other state. New York has reported the fifth highest level of test results per 100,000 residents, according to AP’s data, and the second highest number of test results after California.

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Hays reported from New York City.

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