Today, Mayor Warren requested via letter that Governor Cuomo allow indoor dining in Orange Zones. The full text of the letter follows and is attached:
January 12, 2021
The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building, Albany, NY 12224
Dear Governor Cuomo:
Thank you for the leadership you have demonstrated as New York State navigates the coronavirus pandemic. The actions you have taken so far have undoubtedly saved lives and positioned our State for a full economic recovery.
However, in this fast-moving environment, it is important that we as leaders remain willing to re-evaluate our decisions and amend them when appropriate. In that regard, I am asking you to reconsider your policy to forbid indoor dining for restaurants in Orange Zones.
In Rochester, we have learned restaurants play a minor role in driving COVID-19 infection rates. This indicates indoor dining in restaurants with appropriate safety measures and occupancy limits would not cause an overall increase.
Most significantly, the current policy disproportionately affects city restaurant owners and their employees—many of whom are of color and have already bore the greatest burden of the pandemic. Most of Rochester is an Orange Zone, while many suburban towns are in a Yellow Zone where restaurants remain open. City residents are at a disadvantage to survive the pandemic because many of them are family owned, non-franchise businesses. Our residents, like with the gyms and beauty and barber salons, had no alternative but to circumvent businesses in their own neighborhood to patronize suburban businesses. Many of our businesses, especially the women and people of color businesses, are having a hard time surviving under the current regulations.
This is especially troubling in light of the work we have done in Rochester to address historic racism and structural inequities. Many of these goals are encapsulated in my recently unveiled Equity and Recovery Agenda, which builds upon your demonstrated commitment to communities of color, such as the State’s support of the Revitalize Rochester Fund.
Restaurants play a unique role in our urban economy, they often serve as the anchors of our commercial business districts and even influence neighborhood housing values. In total, Rochester has nearly 7,000 people working in our restaurants and many of our
restaurants enjoy institutional, landmark status in our neighborhoods, and their closure would have ripple effects across the entire city economy.
We, through our Neighborhood and Business Development Department have made it a priority to support restaurants with our CARES Act funding. So far, this program has already awarded more than $1.7 million to more than 900 applicants, including many restaurant operators. We have also partnered with them to feed our senior citizens who are also suffering during this pandemic.
Adding to our frustration, we recently announced the Flower City Winter Sidewalks Program to help restaurants operate outside with ventilated, single-table greenhouses for up to four people. In recent weeks, our community partners have come forward with generous donations to provide 25 restaurants with free, temporary greenhouses. We hope to begin installing greenhouses in just a couple weeks, but have been told by ESD, without any written justification, that they violate Orange Zone requirements. At this point we’re doing everything we can to help our restaurants survive, but at every turn, without data or any other justification, our businesses are being arbitrarily penalized.
Governor Cuomo, you have a well-deserved reputation as one of the most progressive, forward-thinking governors in the nation. I respectfully request that you to continue on that path and amend a policy that has the unintended consequence of disproportionately affecting City-owned businesses, many of them owned by women and people of color, creating an outsized blow to urban economies. Please remove the prohibition on indoor dining for restaurants in the designated Orange Zones, and allow such dining with appropriate safety measures and occupancy restrictions. Thank you and feel free to contact me to discuss this vital matter to Rochester.
Lovely A. Warren