Virus Outbreak New York - Restaurant

Imani Williams sanitizes tables June 29, 2020, at Junior's Restaurant in New York City, during a time period when the Brooklyn restaurant was open for takeout service and outdoor dining only.

When, back in October, Gov. Cuomo rolled out his microcluster approach to COVID outbreaks — explaining the policy in an op-ed in these pages — he advertised it as a surgically precise tool, based entirely on data, that would reduce the virus spread by imposing restrictions on businesses and other activities in small geographic areas with rising cases, zeroing in on problems while preventing the need for larger, regional shutdowns.

“Now more than ever, government matters and science matters,” he wrote.

But since the fall, the state has inconsistently applied its own rules for determining when areas should be designated yellow, orange or red zones, Erie County State Supreme Court Justice Henry Nowak argued convincingly in a ruling last week, siding in favor of 91 restaurant owners who’d sued the state questioning the rationale for labeling parts of Erie County an orange zone, a designation that meant the restaurants would no longer be able to serve customers indoors.

“In principle, the Cluster Action Initiative is an ingenious strategy,” but “in is entirely dependent on proper identification of clusters,” Nowak wrote, adding that as a result the court “cannot find evidence that the state had a rational basis to designate portions of Erie County as an orange zone on Nov. 18.”

The ruling applied to Erie County, but state officials later decreed it would apply to all other orange zones statewide, reopening indoor dining across the state at 50% capacity. But for reasons the state has never credibly explained, indoor dining is banned altogether in New York City, despite still comparatively low virus rates in many parts of the five boroughs.

For rules to work, they need to be reasonably logical and consistent. The state’s herky-jerky application of restrictions undermines New Yorkers’ confidence, and compliance. Whatever happened to letting science lead?

Editor's Note: This article is part of the TownNews Content Exchange network, which includes OnSachem News.

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