New York City restaurants that want to offer outdoor dining must use a structure where two sides are open for airflow, according to updated directives from city and state officials.
"If the structure has only one open side, or no open sides, it is considered an indoor dining area and may not be used for dining," guidelines released late Thursday state. "Sides are not considered 'open' if covered in clear plastic or other material restricting air flow."
When first introduced, the guidelines banned customers dining outdoors from going inside a restaurant to use the restroom. New York officials quickly reversed that mandate Friday.
Still, the two-sides rule is the latest challenge this year for ailing NYC restaurant owners, many of whom have depended on outdoor seating to keep their business afloat during the. Restaurants nationwide are using tents and other structures to let customers dine together without having to be indoors, where the virus may spread more easily.
The New York City Hospitality Alliance criticized the guidelines, arguing that they unfairly single out restaurants and make it hard for delivery workers to bring orders into an establishment.
"Clearly this new guidance poses even more challenges for restaurants, customers and vendors," the nonprofit said in a statement. "[It] doesn't make sense since people can still enter grocery stores and other businesses to place orders, pick them up, and shop while wearing masks and meeting other safety protocols."
Aside from the two-sides rule, restaurants in the Big Apple took another hit earlier this week when the city forced them to close indoor dining due to . Local restaurateurs criticized the ban saying it further hindered their ability to earn a living.
Ed McFarland, owner of Ed's Lobster Bar in Manhattan, said he's "really disappointed" about the shutdown because he doesn't think operating at a limited capacity has contributed to the spike in local coronavirus cases.
Creating airflow might be a challenge for restaurants, but public health experts told the Associated Press that it's the right thing to do. While tents are a creative solution for outdoor dining, they shouldn't be shared with people who aren't in your household, said Craig Hedberg, a University of Minnesota public health professor.
"The more airflow through the structure, the better it is," said Cornell University public health expert Dr. Isaac Weisfuse.