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Is New York Really Having a Restaurant-Closing Crisis?

Is New York Really Having a Restaurant-Closing Crisis?

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Very few restaurants can actually be called New York institutions, but Danny Meyer’s first establishment, Union Square Café, could certainly claim that prestigious title after 30 years of New York culinary fame. That probably explains the collective gasp across the five boroughs when it was announced that Union Square Café will be losing its lease at the end of 2015 and will most likely have to move. In the firestorm that followed, a bevy of opinions were published on blogs and in newspapers, including Steve Cuozzo’s piece in the New York Post declaring the restaurant crisis “baloney,” and Danny Meyer’s own op-ed published in The New York Times today, which lamented the loss of many landmark restaurants due to booming real estate, including Union Square Café, Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill, and Wylie Dufresne’s wd~50.

"It's not a done deal that we're closing Union Square," Danny Meyer told The Daily Meal. "We're still talking with the landlord. It would be our druthers if the landlord would say 'I'll give you 15 or 20 years with same escalations we've had.' We would say 'Awesome!' and we'd close the place and make the needed renovations and then reopen. That would absolutely by my top choice."

The Daily Meal also spoke with three seasoned New York restaurant alums: Alan Rosen, the owner of Junior’s Restaurant in Brooklyn; Marc Murphy, owner of Benchmarc Restaurants, including Land Marc and Ditch Plains; and John Meadow, founder of LDV Hospitality Group, who have mostly agreed that exorbitant rising rent in New York is nothing new, but it is getting increasingly difficult for restaurants to keep up.

“This has been the story of New York forever,” said John Meadow. “The markets go up and down, and the reality is, the market is what someone is willing to pay. But right now, restaurants are getting priced out. They can’t compete with other industries.”

Meadow predicts that we will soon start seeing second-floor restaurants, and restaurants in smaller spaces in more obscure neighborhoods, as well as the continued boom of food trucks (which don’t have to pay rent, of course). He said that although LDV has opened 10 restaurants in New York, the company is looking elsewhere in Atlanta and Miami because “the price the New York market will bear is not suitable for a responsible restaurant operator.”

Restaurants take more of a financial hit when it comes to salaries, food supplies, and health and safety costs, than a big-box store like Duane Reade or a bank. So for most chefs, opening a restaurant in New York usually isn’t cost-effective, said Meadow. But it really isn’t the landlords’ fault, argues chef Marc Murphy, who owns a half a dozen restaurants in New York.

“You can’t blame the landlords for wanting to charge market price,” said Murphy. “Yes, a restaurant has been there for 30 years, but it’s a lot more complicated than pointing fingers. If I want to go into a neighborhood and stay forever, I should have bought the building.”

In Danny Meyer’s op-ed in July 3rd's edition of The New York Times, he argues that yes, he had hoped to stay in Union Square for a long time (if not, forever) as one of the culinary pioneers of New York’s big comeback in the 1980s.

“In the past year, all kinds of pioneering restaurants that helped set the table for their respective neighborhoods have each lost out to untenable rent escalations,” wrote Meyer. “My hunch is that they won’t be replaced by restaurants that will become similar pillars of their neighborhood.”

Alan Rosen argues that good and great restaurants will always be a part of the fabric of New York. Rosen is no stranger to this issue, because he has been considering selling the original Junior’s building for awhile.

“When well-established restaurants close we all have to take the hit, but if there’s someone else willing to pay that rent that’s not a restaurant, then so be it. Everything comes up and goes down, you’ll see.”

Whereas Meyer suggests a few solutions like London’s rent assessment panel which puts a cap on out-of-control rents, Rosen believes that the cycle of the free market will come back around, and LDV’s John Meadow agrees. But many chefs and restaurateurs feel that something should be done.

“The government has to decide what this city is going to look like,” said Murphy. “There are still restaurants opening, but it’s not without huge risk. It’s expensive to eat out because restaurants have to pay our health insurance. Believe me, even if Bobby Flay or Danny Meyer isn’t successful within six months, it will take a lot to keep them open.”

For the latest happenings in the food and drink world, visit our Food News page.

Joanna Fantozzi is an Associate Editor with The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter@JoannaFantozzi

Dianne Morales: ‘I don’t think New York City is as progressive as we’d like to think’

It’s a blustery day in the New York city neighborhood of Astoria, Queens, where the mayoral candidate Dianne Morales is due to speak to the crowd.

By the time she arrives, the pitching of Morales’s tent, branded in her colors of purple, pink and orange, has already been abandoned due to the wind, and volunteers have been sent sprinting across Astoria park to retrieve hundreds of white campaign pamphlets sent flying across the grass.

It doesn’t matter. Morales, who would be the city’s first female mayor since the position was created in 1665, gets a big cheer when she strolls out to the crowd of about 100 people, nestled under the towering Triborough Bridge.

Dressed all in black and wearing a hand-stitched campaign face mask, Morales is here as part of her “traveling block party tour”, where she meets, and hopes to win over, potential voters ahead of the 22 June New York City Democratic primary.

An unashamedly progressive candidate who would also be New York City’s first Afro-Latina mayor, Morales is a former non-profit executive who goes the furthest of her myriad competitors in wanting to defund the police, and who plans to revamp public accommodation in a city with a dire housing crisis exacerbated by the coronavirus.

“I’m running because for too long, the voices of some of our most vulnerable and marginalized communities have not been centered and elevated and leadership and policy-making,” Morales tells the Guardian.

“The essential workers, the working-class immigrants, the undocumented, the low-income, black and brown folks, the people who operated our trains, the people who delivered our meals, the people who stocked the grocery shelves, those people who are not being taken care of by us, for far too long have been living on the edge, and have been pushed even further as a result of this pandemic.”

This is Morales’s first time running for office. A 52-year-old single mother of two, she has spent most of her career working for non-profits working to support homeless youth and later becoming CEO of an organization that trains young adults to work in healthcare.

Her campaign has attracted the enthusiastic, non-wealthy support – the average contribution to her campaign is $47, and Morales says 30% of her donors are unemployed – that same combination fueled the elections of progressive New Yorkers Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman to US Congress, but she faces challenges.

In much of the wider US, and around the world, New York City is seen as a forward-thinking place, a bastion of leftwing politics, gender equality and progress. But since 1834, when the mayor of New York City began being elected by popular vote, it has elected 109 leaders, every one of them a man.

The city has had only one non-white mayor, David Dinkins, who lasted four years in office at the beginning of the 1990s before losing his re-election bid to Rudy Giuliani.

“I don’t think New York City, as a whole, is as progressive as we’d like to think,” Morales says.

“There are sort of political dynasties that are deeply entrenched and deeply rooted here. And the fact that so many people have not felt represented by politics that they haven’t felt compelled to participate.”

Morales’s hope is that more people do participate, and with the first debate scheduled for 13 May, and television adverts already beginning to bombard New Yorkers’ screens, the race is hotting up. In a city with a Democratic majority, the winner of the June primary is expected to win the election proper on 2 November.

With demand for racial equality heightened in New York after tens of thousands of people attended Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020, there is enthusiasm among many for the city to appoint its second non-white mayor – although Morales cautions that it should be the right candidate.

“Not all people of color are created equal,” Morales says. Her Democratic running mates include Eric Adams, a former New York police department captain, who is Black, and Maya Wiley, a Black woman who formerly advised Bill de Blasio.

“But that being said, I think it’s critically important to have someone whose lived experiences can reflect and speak to the challenges of the vast majority of New Yorkers or people of color. Because I think it’s one thing to be able to advocate for someone else. It’s another thing to really have a direct first-hand understanding of those experiences and those challenges. It gives you a different perspective.”

Morales’s past includes having experienced police violence first-hand, most recently at a Black Lives Matter demonstration with her family last May.

“I watched as much as both of my children first got pepper-sprayed, and then as my son got assaulted by a police officer,” Morales says.

As Morales and her family were being hemmed in by police, she said she waded forward to protect her son, who was being punched by a police officer.

“In that moment, time both speeds up and slows down, and I remember coming up behind my son, putting my hand around his chest, pulling him back towards me. And in that moment, that was when everything slowed down, I felt like I could hear him, felt his beating heart. And I remember thinking he’s a baby, and he’s terrified,” Morales said.

“It was terrifying and devastating and traumatizing.”

Several candidates expressed interest in hacking the NYPD’s budget after that summer, but as the primary grows closer, many have backed away from the strongest proposals. Morales’s plan – “defund the police fund the people”, her website reads – goes furthest, cutting $3bn from the NYPD’s $6bn budget and swapping out police with trained responders who would respond to mental health, wellness and social issues callouts.

Primaries in New York City are known for being unpredictable. At a similar stage in the 2013 Democratic vote, De Blasio was in fourth place, but went on to clinch victory with 40% of the vote. That gives hope for Morales, who in a recent poll was in a cluster of candidates trailing Andrew Yang, a tech entrepreneur Adams, the current Brooklyn borough president and Scott Stringer, the New York City comptroller who is hemorrhaging support after an accusation of sexual misconduct.

Morales, unlike the candidates currently in that top three, has never run for public office before, but believes this is her time.

“I am not doing this for the sake of the next step, or, just for the sake of holding office,” Morales says.

“I’m doing this for the sake of actually trying to dramatically improve the quality of life and the access to dignity of so many New Yorkers.”

The Owner Of New York's Iconic Katz's Deli Is Not Who You'd Expect

Jake Dell is not a Katz, but he is in charge of the iconic New York deli that bears the name. "I usually just respond to Mr. Katz at this point," he laughs. "There's no difference." For all intents and purposes, Dell is a Katz. His grandfather was an original partner in Katz's Delicatessen, and when his father and uncle took over, it became his everyday, too. "There are a lot of staff members from the store who've been with us 20, 30, 40 years, who definitely remember me in diapers," Dell says.

When he was old enough, Dell earned his keep by the door, handing out tickets, (pro tip: never lose your ticket) then working various other jobs in the restaurant as he grew. Recently, he became the owner. That's right: At 30 years old, he's at the helm of a nearly 130-year-old business. "The comments were, 'Don't f*ck this up.'," Dell recalls of his first few months as boss.

Katz's has built a following on its reliability. The Lower East Side spot does few things &mdash deli meats, matzoh balls, latkes &mdash and it does them well, hence the worries that Dell might screw them up. But hasn't changed the food he's just made it easier to get.

In 2017, Katz's expanded for the very first time. It didn't go far &mdash just across the East River to Brooklyn. The deli opened a tiny outpost called A Taste Of Katz in Dekalb Market Hall. It's stripped of some of the things locals and tourists have come to associate with Katz's &mdash a sprawling butcher's counter, the "I'll have what she's having table" made famous by When Harry Met Sally &mdash but not completely devoid of charm. There are still pictures all over the walls of celebrities and notable diners, and the sandwich slingers are as to-the-point as they are in Manhattan.

They're not trying to be curt, it's just that you can't dilly-dally when you reach a Katz's counter. You have to know your order. There's a 99 percent chance a long line is forming behind you. "It's really all about explaining what you want," Dell says as he shares some intel, like the fact that juicy, or fatty, pastrami always tastes better than the lean stuff. "Thats the secret code of deli," he continues. "We rely on you to yell at us. This is New York. We're used to it."

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‘This is it. If we don’t amp up, we’re goners’: the last chance to confront the climate crisis?

An environment activist in Kathmandu takes part in a protest calling for climate action as air pollution reaches hazardous levels due to recent wildfires across Nepal. Photograph: Skanda Gautam/Zuma/Rex/Shutterstock

An environment activist in Kathmandu takes part in a protest calling for climate action as air pollution reaches hazardous levels due to recent wildfires across Nepal. Photograph: Skanda Gautam/Zuma/Rex/Shutterstock

When it comes to addressing the climate emergency, there have been hopeful moments before that ultimately led to nothing. Now, hope rises again

T he Earth’s climate has always been a work in progress. In the 4.5bn years the planet has been spinning around the sun, ice ages have come and gone, interrupted by epochs of intense heat. The highest mountain range in Texas was once an underwater reef. Camels wandered in evergreen forests in the Arctic. Then a few million years later, 400 feet of ice formed over what is now New York City. But amid this geologic mayhem, humans have gotten lucky. For the past 10,000 years, virtually the entire stretch of human civilization, people have lived in what scientists call “a Goldilocks climate” – not too hot, not too cold, just right.

Now, our luck is running out. The industrialized nations of the world are dumping 34bn tons or so of carbon into the atmosphere every year, which is roughly 10 times faster than Mother Nature ever did on her own, even during past mass extinction events. As a result, global temperatures have risen 1.2C since we began burning coal, and the past seven years have been the warmest seven years on record. The Earth’s temperature is rising faster today than at any time since the end of the last ice age, 11,300 years ago. We are pushing ourselves out of a Goldilocks climate and into something entirely different.

How hot will the summers get in India and Pakistan, and how will tens of thousands of deaths from extreme heat impact the stability of the region? How close is the West Antarctic ice sheet to collapse, and what does the risk of five or six feet of sea-level rise mean for people living on the Gulf coast?

We are in uncharted terrain. “We’re now in a world where the past is no longer a good guide to the future,” said Jesse Jenkins, an assistant professor of engineering at Princeton University. “We have to get much better at preparing for the unexpected.”

By all indications, President Biden and his team understand all this. In the 2020 election, nearly 70% of Biden’s voters said climate change was a top issue for them. Biden has staffed his administration with the climate A-team, from Gina McCarthy as domestic climate czar to John Kerry as international climate envoy. He has made racial and environmental justice a top priority. And perhaps most important of all, he sees the climate crisis as an opportunity to reinvent the US economy and create millions of new jobs.

“I think in Obama’s mind, it was always about tackling the climate challenge, not making the climate challenge the central element of your economic policy,” says John Podesta, a Democratic power broker and special adviser to President Obama who played a key role in negotiating the Paris agreement. “Biden’s team is different. It is really the core of their economic strategy to make transformation of the energy systems the driver of innovation, growth, and job creation, justice and equity.”

Of course, there have been hopeful moments before: the signing of the Kyoto protocol in 1997, when the nations of the world first came together to limit CO2 emissions the success of Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth in 2006 the election of Obama in 2008 the Paris agreement in 2015, when China finally engaged in climate talks.

A wind farm and solar power plant in California’s Tehachapi Mountains. Photograph: Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/Rex/Shutterstock

But all of these moments, in the end, led to nothing. If you look at the only metric that really matters – a graph of the percentage of CO2 molecules in the atmosphere – it has been on a long, steady upward climb. More CO2 equals more heat. To put it bluntly, all our scientific knowledge, all the political speeches, all the activism and protest marches have done zero to stop the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels.

But hope rises again. The economic winds are lifting Biden’s sails: the cost of wind and solar power has plummeted by 90% or so over the past decade, and in many parts of the world it’s the cheapest way to generate electricity.

Globally, the signs of change are equally inspiring. Eight of the 10 largest economies have pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. China, by far the world’s largest carbon polluter in terms of raw tonnage (on a per capita basis, the US and several other countries pollute far more), has promised to become carbon neutral by 2060. Some 400 companies, including Microsoft, Unilever, Facebook, Ford, Nestlé and Pepsi, have committed to reduce carbon pollution consistent with the United Nations’ 1.5C target, which scientists have determined is the threshold of dangerous climate change.

In her confirmation hearing, the treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, called climate change “an existential threat” and promised to create a team to examine the risks and integrate them into financial policymaking.

Still, these are only baby steps in a very long journey. And the clock is ticking. “When it comes to the climate crisis,” says futurist Alex Steffen, “speed is everything.” If we magically stopped all carbon pollution tomorrow, the Earth’s temperature would level off, but warm seas would continue melting the ice sheets and seas would keep rising for decades, if not centuries (last time carbon levels were as high as they are today, sea levels were 70ft higher). Even after emissions stop, it will take the ocean thousands of years to recover.

Cutting carbon fast would slow these changes and reduce the risk of other climate catastrophes. But despite the world’s newfound ambition, political leaders are not moving anywhere near fast enough. Even the goal of holding future warming to 2C, which is a centerpiece of the Paris agreement and considered the outer limits of a Goldilocks climate for much of the planet, is nearly out of reach. As a recent paper in Nature pointed out: “On current trends, the probability of staying below 2C of warming is only five percent.”

The great danger is not climate denial. The great danger is climate delay.

What’s needed is action now. As climate envoy John Kerry put it at the World Sustainable Development Summit in February: “We have to now phase out coal five times faster than we have been. We have to increase tree cover five times faster than we have been. We have to ramp up renewable energy six times faster than we are. We have to transition to [electric vehicles] 22 times faster.”

Demanding action now will also require shutting down the international financing schemes that support fossil fuels. China, Japan, and South Korea all claim to be doing their part in making carbon reductions at home, while at the same time they are financing 70,000 megawatts of coal power in places like Bangladesh, Vietnam and Indonesia.

The goal of net-zero emissions is also problematic. “Net zero” is not the same thing as zero. It means that carbon pollution is either eliminated or offset by other processes that remove carbon from the atmosphere, such as forests or machines that capture CO2. Some of these offsets and technologies are more legit than others, opening the door to scams that claim to eliminate more carbon than they do.

Joe Biden delivers remarks on his administration’s response to the climate crisis in January. Photograph: REX/Shutterstock

In a way, the economic chaos caused by the pandemic has created a historic opportunity for the Biden administration. As one White House adviser tells me, “If you are going to pump billions of dollars into the economy, why not use those dollars to help us transition away from fossil fuels?” This is one of the central ideas behind Biden’s $2tn infrastructure bill, which is now being negotiated in Congress.

Already the pushback is fierce, especially in states that have benefited from the fracking boom. Shortly after Biden issued his first round of executive orders aimed at the climate crisis, the Texas governor, Greg Abbott, held a press conference in the middle of the gas fields “to make clear that Texas is going to protect the oil-and-gas industry from any type of hostile attack launched from Washington DC”.

Republicans, along with stalwart fossil-fuel allies like the Heritage Foundation, recently convened a private retreat in Utah to plot ways to “reclaim the narrative” on climate, while Republican senators like Tennessee’s Marsha Blackburn continue to recycle tired old rants about how the Paris agreement is destroying American jobs.

Every day it becomes clearer that the fight for a stable climate is increasingly inseparable from a fight for justice and equity. Catherine Coleman Flowers, who was on a taskforce that helped shape Biden’s climate policy during his campaign, grew up and works in Lowndes county, Alabama. “I see a lot of poverty here,” Flowers says. “And I see a lot of people who suffer from the impacts of climate change – whether it is heat, or disease, or poor sanitation and polluted drinking water. You can’t separate one from the other. They put sewage lagoons next to the houses of poor people, not rich people. They put oil pipelines through poor neighborhoods, not rich ones.”

For more than 30 years now, scientists and politicians have been aware that our hellbent consumption of fossil fuels could push us out of the Goldilocks zone and force humans to live in a world we have never inhabited before. As Biden’s push for climate action gets real, we will learn a lot about how serious human beings are about living on this planet, and how far the powerful and privileged are willing to go to reduce the suffering of the poor and vulnerable.

If political leaders don’t take the climate crisis seriously now, with all they know, with all they have been through already, will they ever? “Climate advocates keep saying, ‘This is it, this is it, this is it,’ ” warns Podesta. “But this really is it. If we don’t amp up and accelerate the energy transformation in this decade, we’re goners – really goners.”

This story originally appeared in Rolling Stone and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story

Katia Hernandez lives in Lima, Peru. For weeks, she has been searching for places to travel to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Then, Friday morning, she found out Mayor Bill de Blasio hopes to begin offering vaccines to visiting tourists.

"When I saw some friends on Facebook going to the United States to get vaccinated, at first, for me, I felt it was immoral because you are taking the vaccine from an American citizen, and to me, that is wrong because here, we don't have the vaccine, and I know how important they are," she said. "But then, I was starting to get more news that U.S.A. was open. That was when my mind changed."

Listen — If New York Is 'Over' For You, Please Leave

There’s a scene in one of the final episodes of “Sex and the City’s” six season run where Carrie Bradshaw and Aleksandr Petrovsky (that relationship is a plot line critique we’ll save for another day) are at a party also attended by Carrie’s former friend and washed-up socialite Lexi Featherston, played by Kristen Johnston.

After doing cocaine in the bathroom and being asked to not smoke inside the apartment ― Featherston declares that New York is no longer fun. It’s “Over. O-V-E-R. Over.”

She then plummets out the window to her death, paving the way for that big post-funeral fight between Carrie and Miranda in which Carrie argues, and I paraphrase, that she could stay in New York and write about her life or go to Paris and live her damn life! But I digress.

That scene has been permeating my now-typical pandemic-centric anxieties recently thanks to a collection of similarly themed tweets I keep seeing about New York City and its being “over” for a completely different reason. “New Yorkers,” who fled the city in March when COVID-19 lockdowns went into place, have taken to sounding off on the state they’ve found it in upon their return. Some of the thousands who say they’ll never return spoke out in a June New York Times article about leaving the city amid protests against police brutality.

These people are not wrong to say that New York City ― like many other cities around the world ― is having a tough time right now. There’s the expired moratorium on evictions, the devastating toll COVID-19 has had on our homeless population, the mental health implications associated with the pandemic, the disturbing rate at which businesses, many Black-owned, are either shuttered or at risk of shuttering, the uncertain future of its gay bars, the ravaged restaurant industry and the staggering unemployment rates, not to mention the unthinkable and disastrous consequences of all of the above.

So no, New York isn’t the New York many people with the means to do so abandoned six months ago. But you don’t get to flee the city, come back to the city when it’s convenient or necessary, and make a declaration about how disappointed you are with the city. You come back to the city and be thankful it’s still here ― and it lets you in ― at all.

I spent 10 days in a rental house in July. I spend a few hours per week window-shopping for Airbnb homes in the tristate area I’d like to spend a weekend in. I am not immune to urges to flee, and I am not even remotely close to being one of the many people most impacted by the pandemic. And, when you consider that our government leadership lacks a certain faith-instilling commitment to ensuring a brighter future for the city (this New York Times piece spells it out pretty clearly), the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness are staggering.

But every day for the last six months I have gotten to wake up in New York City. I’ve gotten to support local businesses that hustled their asses off to pivot to the realities of the situation we are all now facing. I bought groceries from local restaurants and chatted with my neighbors (from a distance). I went to the park I drank to-go cocktails I biked. I walked. I spent time with and supporting my community. No matter what the pandemic has done, New York City’s heart is here and it’s beating bigger than ever before. That’s not something we should take for granted.

I’ve been thinking a lot about about chef Gabrielle Hamilton’s heartbreaking New York Times piece written during the “Tiger King” era of lockdown (I think), when this nightmare was just beginning and none of us knew we’d still be grappling with it five months later. In the essay, which you should read if you have not, Hamilton wonders if there is still a place for her iconic New York City restaurant Prune anymore ― and maybe, tragically, there won’t be. There are surely some things New York will never be again. More people will lose their jobs and their homes. More people will need help from the government, their families, their friends, their neighbors.

It’s devastating and scary and it’s not just happening in New York City, it’s happening all over the country, all over the world. I don’t know what anyone else who is tweeting about New York being “over” has had to contend with, overcome or grieve during the first half of this year, but I do know what a massive privilege it is to get to flee in the first place ― and, still, it’s a privilege I won’t judge anyone for. You do you ― and if that means leaving our city (and having the means to do it), cool.

What I will judge people for is having the gall to return back to our ― not their ― city and disrespect not only it, but the many incredible people who live here and refuse to ever give up on it. And I couldn’t help but wonder (see what I did there?), shouldn’t we be spending less time sending snide tweets and more time concentrating on how we can support this city and be our best to it ― and each other?

If your version of that is “over” after spending one day here, maybe you never really belonged here in the first place.

Coronavirus NYC: Restaurants, bars can stay open an hour later starting Monday

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Restaurants and bars in New York City can now stay open until midnight and catered events can go until 1 a.m., the latest incremental loosening of pandemic restrictions.

Still, businesses say the extra hour -- the previous curfew was 11 p.m. -- does not go far enough.

Indoor capacity is still limited to 50%, and any alcoholic beverages must come with food.

A UCSF doctor explains why there are people experiencing side effects after getting their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

New York City Hospitality Alliance Executive Director Andrew Rigie said it is a step in the right direction, but more steps need to be taken.

"We still need a roadmap for when the curfew will be lifted like it has for other industries," he said, noting that gyms and even casinos can stay open all night.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that museum and zoo capacities will increase to 50% and movie theaters to 33% next Monday, while large indoor arenas will increase to 25% capacity on May 19, in time for the NBA playoffs.

City officials say vaccination is the key to reopening, and Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday that a vaccine site will open at the American Museum of Natural History. The site, which will open Friday, will focus initially on people who work in cultural institutions.

De Blasio said the 4.91% citywide positivity reported Monday is "below the 5% threshold for the first time in a long time."

"That is a profoundly good sign," he said. "Everyone has been working really hard. Let's keep working. Let's just run COVID out of this time once and for all."

Officials announced over the weekend that walk-ins would be allowed at all city-run vaccine sites for anyone 50 and older, and the mayor hopes to expand that to all eligible residents.

"We are looking at that right now," he said. "We wanted to test this out. The goal here is to make vaccination as convenient as possible. We are going to welcome people to it. I think, honestly, convenience has been one of the issues. The more convenient it gets, the easier it is for people to make that choice. We also want to be careful about not having big lines. Obviously, we don't want people waiting a long time. We've been testing it, expanding the test, so far, so good. And we are looking to see if we can go further."

The 31 locations citywide are offering the shot without an appointment as the city has more supply than ever before -- even with the pause in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Officials said the city broke the record for daily vaccinations last Friday with 106,527, and that nearly 6 million total vaccines have been administered.

Can New York reopen indoor dining safely? Here is what coronavirus, restaurant experts say

New York City is reopening indoor dining at restaurants at 25% capacity on Wednesday, but many remain concerned about safety. Covid-19 cases in New York have been rising again and the colder weather season is also expected to result in coronavirus spikes. Restaurants can manage safety concerns, according to Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former FDA Commissioner, but it will come down to individual restaurant decisions and settings.

"The risks related to indoor dining relate to how many people are crowded into a space and setting," Gottlieb told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Wednesday morning. "Some are safer than others," Gottlieb said, adding that air filtration systems and air flow vary, and the risk of aerosol spread of Covid-19 cannot be ignored.

"We can get something that approximates an aerosol spread and superspreader event, so it really is going to be variable from restaurant to restaurant," the former FDA Commissioner said.

Gottlieb said he does think focus on reopening institutions like schools is more important than reopening restaurants, because the risks are high and while there are economic benefits, there are less social benefits. "I would be focused on schools over purely entertainment settings, not withstanding hardship to restaurant owners," he said.

Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group is among the New York City-based companies reopening restaurants on Wednesday for indoor dining at 25% capacity. Many diners are concerned about the health risks they will be taking, but Meyer also is focused on keep restaurant employees safe.

Union Square Hospital Group has partnered with biometric screening company CLEAR to monitor employee health at his dining establishments.

CLEAR, which was created after 9/11 as a way to improve airport security, has created an app called Health Pass that Meyer's company will use for all employees as part of daily safety health checks. The CLEAR app initially verifies identity by uploading an identifying document and asking a user to snap a selfie. Before entering the restaurant, employees open Health Pass, verify their identity with a selfie, and then answer a series of health survey questions. A CLEAR kiosk in the restaurant will offer a temperature check and scan the employee QR code to gather health insights and confirm the person can safely enter, but it does not access an individual's private health details. The National Hockey League used the same technology in its recent Stanley Cup Playoffs in Toronto and Edmonton.

Meyer, whose firm had to lay off thousands of workers early in the coronavirus as restaurants shut down, said the transition from sidewalk dining — which three of his restaurants have been doing for many weeks already — is a phase of Covid reopening that, "Were concerned about it, but also really excited."

"We want to do it in the safest possible way . in a way to ensure employees it is safe to come back to work," Meyer told CNBC's "Squawk Box" about the reopening plan and the CLEAR deal.

"It helps making sure employees know we are vigilant about it every day," Meyer said.

Pressure mounts on New York City to resume indoor dining

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- A decision on whether indoor dining will be permitted during the pandemic will happen this month, Mayor Bill de Blasio clarified on Wednesday morning.

"I think it's our responsibility to give (restaurants) as clear an answer in the month of September as possible, of where we are going," he said. "If there can be a timeline, if there can be a set of standards for reopening, we need to decide that in the next few weeks and announce it, whether it is good news or bad news."

De Blasio said indoor bars and nightclubs are more problematic for virus resurgence than indoor restaurants, but those "are still really sensitive" also.

"Indoor bars, indoor nightclubs have been particularly intense nexuses for resurgences around the country, around the world right now," he said. "That's a very big concern."

The mayor added the decisions about reopening are always going to be about health and safety first.

"That's why we've been so careful with this issue," de Blasio said.

A decision on the resumption of indoor dining in NYC should come sometime in September, Mayor Bill de Blasio says.

The pressure to reopen indoor dining is intensifying as New Jersey prepares to reopen indoor dining with limited capacity starting Friday.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson issued a statement in favor of resuming indoor dining with precautions.

"It's time to allow indoor dining in New York City with reduced capacity and clear guidance to ensure social distancing and safety," he said. "This is crucial for restaurant owners, who have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic and the resulting drop in tourism. Summer is winding down, and they need to begin planning for the colder months. Of course, we will continue to monitor the City's COVID-19 rates, just as we must for all of our businesses. We know that the restaurant industry employs many New Yorkers, including many immigrants. Its health and well-being are imperative to our city. The rest of the state has been allowed to reopen their restaurants for indoor dining, and New Jersey is allowing indoor dining come Friday. Now is the time to allow it in New York City. Our restaurants and our City's economy can't wait."

Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, issued a statement in support of Speaker Johnson calling for indoor dining to resume in New York City.

"Restaurants across New York City have been financially (devastated) for six months since the start of the pandemic," he said. "With New Jersey resuming indoor dining on Friday and restaurants elsewhere across New York state having safely served customers indoors for months, the NYC Hospitality Alliance, restaurant owners from across the five boroughs, industry leaders, members of the State Senate, City Council and now Speaker Johnson have all called for an immediate plan to resume indoor dining. We're thankful that Speaker Johnson is urgently protecting thousands of small businesses from permanent closure and preventing losses of tens of thousands of industry jobs, and we stand with his call to action to allow indoor dining to safely resume in New York City."

New York’s ‘Mystery’ Surge in COVID Cases Is Freaking Experts Out

The Empire State, once again, has the dubious distinction of being the state in which COVID is spreading fastest on a per-person basis.

Justin Rohrlich

Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty

Even though New York has one of the strictest mask mandates in the country, and one-third of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, COVID-19 infection rates are rising faster than any other state in the U.S.—and public health experts aren’t completely sure what’s behind the spike in new cases.

“The reality is that no one knows exactly why,” Dr. Irwin Redlener, a New York epidemiologist specializing in pandemic response, told The Daily Beast. “There are a lot of factors in New York that have to do with population density, lots of people who are in marginalized populations or living in poverty, and all of these factors tend to exacerbate spread and reduce access to vaccines. But one of my colleagues pointed out that this is not dissimilar to places like Detroit, where they are not seeing a surge.”

After nearly three months on a downward trajectory, new coronavirus cases rose 64 percent in New York last week. State officials reported 67,963 new cases for the seven-day period, an increase of 26,557 from the previous week. This gives New York the dubious distinction of being the state in which COVID is spreading fastest on a per-person basis, according to a USA Today data analysis, and the biggest increase has been in New York City. About 55 New York City residents have died from COVID each day over the past two weeks, per New York magazine, higher than it was at any point from last August to the beginning of December.

At the same time, embattled New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo continues to relax COVID restrictions on indoor dining, recently allowing restaurants to operate at 50 percent capacity. Indoor fitness classes reopened statewide on Mar. 22 at 33 percent capacity, Yankee Stadium and Citi Field will soon open at 20 percent capacity, and New Yorkers are once again permitted to go to movie theaters (25 percent in New York City) and billiard halls (35 percent in the city, 50 percent elsewhere in the state).

“We’re not doing enough genomic surveillance,” said Redlener. “It may be that we’re dealing with some yet unidentified strains in New York. Unfortunately, the conclusion is we don't know why the New York Metro area is being hit. We don't have a lot of information that really explains this uniqueness. It’s a mystery that will eventually be unraveled—but not yet.”

The acceleration in new COVID cases also puzzles Lawrence Gostin, a public health law professor at Georgetown University who is affiliated with the World Health Organization. Sometimes, the reasons can be obvious, such as an influx of Spring Breakers gathering together at one time, he said. However, New York City isn’t a Spring Break destination. There may be other factors at play, according to Gostin, who speculated about three possibilities.

First, people have a tremendous amount of “pandemic fatigue,” and are itching to go out again. And it’s far easier to get COVID while seeing friends in a restaurant or bar than it is sitting six feet away from them in Central Park.

Second, Gostin pointed to the population density of New York City as a potential reason for the uptick in new cases.

“There are just a lot of people packed together,” he said. “Thirdly, I think the U.K. variant could be an explanation because it’s so much more transmissible than the original virus and that's also a contributor.”

The U.K. variant, or B117, is the main culprit behind any surge right now, believes Dr. Emily Landon, an infectious disease expert at the University of Chicago Medical Center. It’s the most aggressive and most dangerous, and leads to more deaths than the original permutation of the virus, she said.

“Every cough and sneeze from a person who has B117 has more virus in it than the others, and it takes fewer viral particles to make you sick,” Landon told The Daily Beast. “So it’s a double whammy. I don't think people understand that, really.”

Landon doesn’t see the New York surge—as well as a midwestern version of it happening now in her home state of Illinois—as much of a surprise.

“We knew for a while that the variants were going to begin to spread more rapidly, and our vaccine effort wasn't going to outpace that,” she said. “It’s a little bit like the tortoise and the hare: right now, the variants are the hare and the vaccines are the tortoise.”

B117 is the COVID strain that’s pushing hospitalization numbers up for younger people across the country right now, said Landon. And while younger people tend not to get as sick as those who are older, she pointed out that even mild cases of COVID can lead to things like long-term organ damage.

Children with mild cases of COVID can also act as vectors, spreading it to family members, teachers, and others with whom they may come into close contact, according to Ryan Marino, a Cleveland, Ohio ER doctor who has treated patients who refused to believe COVID was real. This could also be contributing to the rise in COVID infections in places where schools have reopened for in-person learning, such as New York City.

Ignoring this “big part of the equation” is unwise, Marino said, adding that kids are “definitely catching the virus and spreading the virus.”

“It’s heartbreaking that we haven’t learned from 500,000 preventable deaths, and more that could be prevented if people didn’t have a need to be wall-to-wall bodies on Miami Beach,” he told The Daily Beast. “We really are very close to having some degree of control here, so it does feel kind of exasperating to see people kind of throwing caution to the wind when we’re in the home stretch.”

We’re close to the light at the end of the tunnel, said Gostin.

“Just hold on for another four to six weeks,” he said. “Then there are going to be enough people vaccinated to break the chains of transmission, and by spring and summer we’re going to see a significant drop in cases and a truly dramatic drop in hospitalizations and deaths.”


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