Curbed Chat: Governor Cuomo’s New COVID Rules

Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images

After Governor Andrew Cuomo announced new restrictions on New York today, looking to blunt the rebound of COVID-19 infection, most of the New York City Curbed staff — joined by one colleague in Denver, who’s watching the wildfire spread of the virus in Colorado close at hand, and another whose parents are in Colorado — gathered on Slack to discuss the new rules.

Christopher Bonanos: The COVID infection rates are headed back up, and Governor Cuomo just announced that New York State will be living under new restrictions. Restaurants and bars will close at 10 p.m., and so will gyms.

Jeff Andrews: This is certainly a blow to all those who hit the gym at 10:45 p.m.

Caroline Spivack: How did they even come to that decision? Where’s the data that shows COVID is spreading rapidly at gyms after 10 p.m.?

C.B.: There’s some about gyms and restaurants. Useful but not definitive.

Justin Davidson: I’ve been leery of eating indoors at restaurants, and I’ve been doing all my workouts outdoors or at home, because I have the sense that those are two likely conduits for spread. He’s right to target those, but the 10 p.m. thing is just specious.

Valeria Ricciulli:  I checked, and the previous requirement was that they could only stay open until 11 p.m., so what difference is an hour really gonna make?

J.A.: I’m sure most people see the 10 p.m. cutoff and just laugh.

V.R.: But you know what? I have been kicked out of places at 10:45 or earlier because of the restrictions. I think restaurant owners are very wary of getting fines.

C.B.: My first thought was along those lines: Aren’t those the least crowded hours in any given business? What’s the logic?

Diana Budds: He’s in dad mode, giving the state a curfew when it really needs more allowance for health care.

Megan Barber: While the 10 p.m. curfew might not make much sense for gyms, it certainly is apt for bars.

Alissa Walker: In my parents’ town [in Colorado], they shut down at 9 p.m., the reason being that when people drink more — tourists, especially — that they get lazy with their masks, and the servers and bartenders in particular felt in danger.

V.R.: A lot of restaurants and bars were already closing early, even on weekends, so I don’t know how much impact this will have.

J.A.: It feels more like a symbolic move designed to get people’s attention on rising case numbers.

M.B.: Well, these rules aren’t unique to New York, and plenty of other cities are currently under curfews. These are all mechanisms in the COVID government toolbox, and mayors and governors are all trying to balance keeping things open while reducing spread.

I think New York should prepare for these types of mind-boggling, contradictory restrictions. Here in Denver, when they dropped gatherings to no more than five people total (inside or out), you could still book a reservation and eat inside with ten people from ten different households.

J.D.: ??

M.B.: Yup. Reasoning was that restaurants had “additional health protocols in place,” whereas park gatherings did not.

J.D.: The thing is, Cuomo got everyone to believe in him because he was being sensible. This puts that kind of compliance at risk.

M.B.: Exactly. You lose goodwill when these things don’t make sense to people at a basic level.

J.D.: Right. I think Cuomo is nibbling around the edges of dealing with a coming emergency, because that’s what he thinks he can sell right now, but it’s a little like getting out a plastic pail when you’re in the path of a hurricane. And it’s a paradox: We’re heading back into a situation we’ve already been in. We know what works, because it did. But we don’t want to impose the same restrictions, because we know how painful they are.

Willy Blackmore: I’m surprised so much of this is focused on restrictions and so little on messaging around what we should do and what would do the most to limit transmission. I don’t think people should be having parties indoors, but having an unenforceable rule isn’t going to help stop that — especially not ahead of Thanksgiving.

C.B.: That may be what’s behind the additional new restriction on house parties of more than ten people, based on data from contact tracing. That seems prudent, and also nearly impossible to enforce.

V.R.: Cuomo is probably worried about Thanksgiving.

J.D.: I’m very worried about Thanksgiving, and I presume he is, too. But what’s needed now is not gentle scolding but an all-out messaging campaign in every neighborhood urging New Yorkers to get serious again. I’d see about tapping the Census’s network of local organizations. This is about changing individual behavior.

From the beginning, this has felt like politicians and regular people are bargaining with a force of nature: “How about Thanksgiving?” “Pleeease?” It’s like asking Hurricane Sandy to avoid Halloween.

M.B.: The CDC just released guidelines saying Thanksgiving should be celebrated within your own household. That’s it.


W.B.: Have these rules ever really worked?

J.D.: No.

M.B.: Exactly, Justin. In other places, these same restrictions didn’t work.

J.D.: People aren’t scared enough this time. We need more fear.

D.B.: Just from personal observations, it seems like correct mask usage is happening less around the city. And that seems to be one of the most effective tools we have.

M.B.: I think New Yorkers feel like they have battled this and basically won. Cases have stayed low so long compared to other cities.

C.B.: I think the fear will really hit people when New York City’s rate goes up again en masse, rather than mostly in hot spots like the Orthodox parts of Brooklyn or Staten Island. My wife and I checked on our neighborhood yesterday, and it’s still seeing a positive-test rate around one percent. But it’s not going to stay that way.

J.D.: We should know by now how important it is to get ahead of this, rather than wait for it to get bad.

J.A.: Hudson Yards has the highest cases per 100,000 people. Maybe this is targeted toward late-night diners there.

C.B.: Quarantine it. Velvet rope around the whole thing.

J.A.: They wanted to be cut off from the rest of the city, so let’s make their dream a reality.

C.B.: I’m curious about enforcement. Cuomo says “local government” is responsible, but I’m not clear on whether that’s the health department or the NYPD.

M.B.: There will be fines.

J.D.: It means he’s putting it on Bill de Blasio, knowing he’ll fail.

M.B.: See, that’s the thing: No political entity wants to own these restrictions, closures. Not public-health officials, not the governor, not the mayor. That’s why, in other states, things are worse than they have ever been in the pandemic, and there’s no lockdown — it feels like political suicide.

W.B.: I wonder why a short lockdown, like what Montreal did recently, isn’t on the table.

M.B.: A short lockdown could likely have the will of the people on its side.

C.S.: I agree about a short-term lockdown. But are we there yet? When is the right time to pull the trigger?

M.B.: When you get close to 5 percent.

J.D.: Again, I think one thing the city could do, stat, would be a messaging blitz: Thanksgiving get-togethers kill. A turkey surrounded by Norman Rockwell skeletons. Something like that.

J.A.: Avoid Political Conversation With Your Drunk Uncle by Skipping Thanksgiving.

C.B.: That’d get instant 99 percent compliance.

Curbed Staff Chat: Can Cuomo’s New COVID Regulations Work?