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Indoor dining gets 86ed amid COVID cluster fears

Indoor dining has been 86ed as worries grow that letting diners back into restaurants could create COVID clusters.

But the city is promising to give beleaguered restaurateurs even more space to serve New Yorkers al fresco, opening up sidewalks and Privately Owned Public Spaces, also known as POPS, to help seat diners safely outside.

At a briefing on Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city’s Phase 2 reopening has been “going very well,” but added, “We are now going to re-examine the indoor dining rules for phase three. The rest of phase three is moving on pace for Monday, July 6 … but the indoor dining element is now in question.”

The decision came after several new coronavirus outbreaks across the nation as traced directly to indoor dining. In East Lansing, Michigan, 85 patrons tested positive after eating in a single restaurant. In Texas and Florida, clusters are also being tied back to bars and restaurants.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy also postponed this week’s planned indoor dining return after several Garden State bars were packed with crowds not wearing masks and ignoring social distancing last week.

“We’re paying attention to this lesson,” said de Blasio.  “I’ve said all along, there’ll be ups and downs, there’ll be modifications. This is now after steady, steady progress, a point where we’re saying, look, on this one piece, we may need to slow down and think differently and approach it differently.”

The mayor said outdoor dining is “clearly working” and the city wants to double down on its efforts to help more restaurants serve more people safely.

In Hoboken, NJ, Mayor Ravi Bhalla (center) is allowing local restaurants, such as Carpe Diem on Grand Street (also pictured top), to spread out into public spaces in an effort to help them serve more customers outside.

Already 6,100 NYC restaurants have applied for extra outdoor space. Now the mayor has signed an executive order suspending zoning regulations that govern Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS) and Waterfront Public Access Areas (WPAAs).

The order means local eating, drinking and retail establishments can temporarily expand into these public spaces that are owned and maintained by private property owners.

First introduced in the 1960s, the nearly 600 POPS that exist today provide opportunities to sit, relax, people watch, eat, meet others and enjoy urban life.

Coming in all shapes and sizes, these spaces are aimed at ensuring that the busiest areas of New York City offer indoor and outdoor atriums, plazas and walkways to the public.

Temporary uses that will be allowed within POPS via the Mayor’s Executive Order include dining areas, health screening stations, bikeshare docks, kiosks, retail stands and space for New Yorkers to line up safely to enter adjacent buildings.

Outdoor and open-air POPS must remain open to the public during their approved hours of access. Once the Executive Order is lifted, all uses that it temporarily allowed must be removed from the POPS.

Temporary uses that will be allowed within the City’s nearly 40 WPAAs via the Mayor’s Executive Order include outdoor dining areas, retail stands and shade structures.

An interactive map of all POPS is available here.

An interactive map of WPAAs is available here.

Restaurants can now apply yo serve meals in privately owned public spaces like this one at 1095 Sixth Avenue.
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