New York’s restaurant industry grapples with loosening vaccine rules | New York

Jyler Hollinger, owner of Festivál Cafe, a “farm-to-bar cocktail cafe” in New York City, said he recently started learning Brazilian jiu-jitsu due to physical altercations with unvaccinated visitors. Covid-19.

The reason for the fights isn’t that Hollinger is a crusader for the city’s requirement that people show proof of vaccinations to sit inside bars and restaurants.

Indeed, Hollinger, who is vaccinated and boosted, has opposed the mandate since its announcement in August and now welcomes plans to lift it.

The city “could have denied people access to the [Metropolitan Transportation Authority]buses and subways so they don’t get vaccinated, but instead put the burden on small businesses… which directly hurts our bottom line and only helps the city,” said Hollinger, who opened his restaurant in September 2020, meaning it only existed during the pandemic.

As New York City and other government entities begin to lift vaccination requirements, many in the hospitality industry say they welcome the measures and believe they will help restaurants and bars. “We have to be smart and safe, but get on with living our lives, and we can’t continue such strict mandates indefinitely when there’s no longer such strong justification for them,” said Andrew Rigie, director executive of the city of New York. Hotel Alliance.

Susanne McDonald checks customers for proof of vaccinations at a restaurant in New York on September 13. Photo: Seth Wenig/AP

But at the same time, some experts worry that lifting restrictions too soon or too completely poses a serious health risk. After all, the pandemic is not over, there are still millions of vulnerable Americans who are unvaccinated, and a new variant could quickly arise almost at any time.

In New York, which has been rocked by the virus more than perhaps any other American city, all of these tensions are playing out.

When New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that workers and customers would have to show proof of vaccinations in dining halls, gymnasiums and entertainment venues, he said, “If you want to participate fully in our company, you must get vaccinated. ”

Since then, the number of Covid cases, hospitalizations and deaths which rose during the Omicron wave and fell.

Mayor Eric Adams announced Feb. 27 that the city would lift the requirements on March 7 if Covid indicators remain low.

New York has already seen a significant increase in the number of people booking hotels in recent weeks, and the lifting of the mandate will contribute to this trend, said Chris Heywood, spokesperson for NYC & Company, the city’s tourism agency. .

More than 60% of the city’s hotel rooms were occupied the week ending February 26, an increase of almost 20% from the previous month, but still significantly lower than the 90% occupancy rate achieved in 2019, according to the hotel analysis company STR.

“I think there is an industry-wide effort to get us back to a sense of normalcy, to lift all unnecessary restrictions, because that will signal to people that it’s time to get back to normality, that the country is open for business and it’s OK to travel now,” Heywood said.

A sign on a table in a restaurant reads 'Vaccinated seats only'.
New York Mayor Eric Adams announced that the city will lift the vaccination requirement on March 7. Photograph: Justin Lane/EPA

But Dr. Stephen Morse, professor of epidemiology at Columbia University Medical Center, continues to worry about the emergence of a new variant that surprises people the way Omicron did. By waiting another month or two to lift restrictions such as the vaccination mandate, he said, we would gain “perhaps more time to get more people vaccinated in other parts of the world, which would reduce the evolution of new variants”.

“I personally would like to see us continue the ‘proof of vaccination requirement,’ but I realize how difficult it is to really enforce that, how much pushback there has been,” Morse said. “It’s a shame he’s become so politicized.”

Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, an epidemiologist at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, said she was “baffled” by the decision to lift the mandate.

People in bars and restaurants are often close together “and obviously that’s a setting where people can’t wear masks since they’re eating and drinking,” El-Sadr said. “I don’t think it’s an onerous requirement and as people move around and mix and come from other parts of the country it makes the vaccination requirement more important.”

But Rigie points to the fact that New York was one of the few cities to implement such a requirement – ​​and that other American cities have also fell their limitations. San Francisco still has a vaccine proof warrant.

Even after the city lifted the mandates, some restaurant owners have mentioned they still plan to ask guests for proof of vaccinations to dine indoors.

A Kat's Deli employee checks a customer's proof of vaccinations
Some restaurateurs said they still plan to ask those dining indoors for proof of vaccination. Photograph: Mary Altaffer/AP

“I think individual businesses will have to make decisions that work for themselves, their employees, and their customers,” Rigie said.

Jeremy Wladis, chairman of The Restaurant Group, which operates a number of restaurants on the Upper West Side, said he and his partners plan to continue checking people’s vaccination status once the requirement is lifted, but decided not to because of fears that some people’s response might be, “Hey, it’s over. Stop bothering me.”

“I think there will be more people than we’ve had in a few years,” said Wladis, owner of restaurants such as Nina’s Great Burrito Bar and Harvest Kitchen. “There’s no way to please everyone all the time.”

Even after the city lifts the requirement, Hollinger, the owner of the Festivál Cafe, said it won’t solve all of his problems at the restaurant. He said he was touched by the increase in crime and homelessness that occurred during the pandemic.

But if more people return to bars and restaurants, “there’s no crime because there are too many people watching,” Hollinger said. I hope “there will be a resurgence this spring and summer where people feel safe to go out and party, to have fun… That’s why people live in New York , it’s because of the world-class food and drink.”

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Cecil N. Messick