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States' rule changes affect restaurants, for good and for ill

COVID-19 roundup: NY extends eviction moratorium, New Mexico says train or shut down, Pennsylvania restaurants lose a bid for capacity protection and Chicago halts indoor bar service.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Climbing infection rates and dropping outdoor temperatures triggered a flurry of state-level activity aimed at protecting restaurant guests from COVID-19 and proprietors from being forced out of business. Here’s a quick review.

New York extends its ban on commercial evictions
Restaurants in the Empire State are protected from evictions or foreclosures until at least Jan. 1 under the executive order issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday. The measure extends the moratorium that Cuomo imposed as an emergency measure on March 20. That order was intended to be in force for just 90 days, which many thought would be long enough to see the pandemic fade. This week’s extension is the fourth one the Democratic governor has signed.

Nearly nine out of 10 restaurants in New York City, one of the state areas hardest hit by the pandemic, were unable to pay their full rent in August, and more than a third paid nothing at all, according to the New York City Hospitality Alliance, a trade group for eateries, bars and nightclubs in the city.

“The extension of this protection gives commercial tenants and mortgagors additional time to get back on their feet and catch up on rent or their mortgage, or to renegotiate lease terms to avoid foreclosure moving forward,” the Alliance said in an alert to members. “We thank Gov. Cuomo for extending this important Executive Order.”

New Mexico tells restaurants to get certified or shut their dining rooms
Restaurants will lose permission to use up to 25% of their indoor dining rooms if they don’t complete a state safety training program by the end of the month, Gov. Michelle Grisham announced yesterday. She also alerted local operators that they will be required to make employees available for spot checks of COVID-19 symptoms by health authorities and that every establishment will be required to maintain a logbook of what customers have dined onsite during the prior three weeks, a step intended to facilitate contact tracing if an employee or guest tests positive for COVID-19. Grisham also directed such tourist draws as museums and historic sites to shut down again as of Oct. 23.

Pennsylvania’s restaurant restrictions are sustained
Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives failed by two votes to override Gov. Tom Wolf’s veto of a measure that prevented the state from lowering restaurants’ indoor service limits below 50% of capacity. The legislation, passed by wide margins in both the House and the state Senate, would have also opened a way for establishments abiding by recommended safety protocols to raise their indoor seating limits, and removed the requirement that alcohol could only be sold for onsite consumption if it was ordered with food.

The legislation had been championed by the state’s restaurant industry.

“The failure to pass HB 2513 is devastating to the long-term survival of the restaurant, private event, and lodging industries,” John Longstreet, CEO of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, said in a prepared response to the failed veto override. “While the PRLA is grateful to the legislators who stood firm with the industry, we are incredibly disappointed in those who succumbed to misinformation and pressure from the Wolf administration and chose to change their votes.”

Chicago suspends indoor bar seating again
With infection rates soaring among young people, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced today that her city will halt indoor service at taverns and bars that don't serve food. Those facilities had been permitted to use up to 25% of their indoor seating. But investigations by city health authorities found that caps on party sizes and the requirement that patrons wear masks were not being heeded. 

Lightfoot said there's no reason to lower capacity limits right now on restaurants, which are currently allowed to use 50% of their dining rooms. But "if
f we don’t see some drastic changes soon, we may have to take other measures," she said.



 

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