Opinion | New York City Must Hit Pause on Indoor Dining

New York residents and officials, it’s time to face some cold, hard facts. The city is on the cusp of its second wave of the coronavirus. As such, restrictions need to be brought back, as economically and socially painful as they might be.

Indoor dining at city restaurants should end. Gyms and some other nonessential businesses ought to be closed again. Religious leaders should tell their congregants to stay home, for safety’s sake, until the current surge is brought to heel. Holiday plans must be limited. Companies should again tell their staffs to work from home whenever possible. All New Yorkers need to recommit to wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding unnecessary exposure risks whenever possible. Taking these steps will help keep children in the city’s classrooms, which should be a priority.

Coronavirus infections are rising at a rate not seen since spring. As of Wednesday, the seven-day average for New York City residents testing positive for the virus was 2.52 percent, compared with 1.2 percent just over a month ago, according to city and state data. That means more than 1,000 people each day are testing positive for the coronavirus in New York City. The state is also seeing troubling increases elsewhere.

New York City’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo should act together, now, to reimpose the restrictions that have proved to slow the spread.

We saw Mr. Cuomo take a step in the right direction on Wednesday when he banned private indoor and outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people statewide and said gyms, bars and restaurants with licenses from the State Liquor Authority would need to close by 10 p.m. The rules go into effect on Friday.

But that is not nearly enough.

New York City has already blown past the 2 percent threshold for seven-day positivity rates that Mr. de Blasio earlier said would trigger an immediate reassessment of indoor dining. It is now approaching 3 percent, the level meant to close the city’s public schools. Ending in-person instruction right now would be a mistake, given the evidence of how little the virus has spread there so far and the devastating consequences that would follow for academic progress as well as for working parents like subway operators and nurses.

In recent months, the spike in infections in New York was largely limited to discrete neighborhoods and communities. In the early fall, Hasidic and other ultra-Orthodox communities in Brooklyn and elsewhere saw clusters. Now, Staten Island has emerged as a hot spot. But citywide, the test positivity rate is increasing, and the number of cases is rising. The case for broader restrictions is clear. And places elsewhere in New York State that are seeing troubling upticks in test positivity rates should consider similar measures.

There are no easy decisions here — there is no doubt that the lives of already weary New Yorkers will be further upended by the moves proposed here. In the short term, the city’s economy, already reeling, will take an even harder hit. It’s important that the city and state do everything they can to help make outdoor dining safe and successful throughout the colder months. And federal lawmakers need to offer workers relief in the form of additional stimulus.

Dr. Jay Varma, a senior adviser for public health in New York City, said on Tuesday that in about half of cases, officials don’t know how people who have tested positive became infected. But there is consistent data from cities across the country that indoor dining can seed outbreaks, which can grow into waves. New York cannot afford to ignore that data. San Francisco, which is also facing a surge in transmission, is closing its indoor dining beginning on Friday.

Mr. Cuomo has said New York was “ambushed” by the virus earlier this year. That’s true, but many months later, there is no such excuse.

Many thousands of New Yorkers have already lost their lives. Thousands more have fallen gravely ill, or have lost friends or loved ones. Imposing restrictions will cause pain. But the cost of not taking strong enough action quickly is more than the city can bear.

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