Crowds Pack Streets Outside Manhattan Bars, Restaurants Over Weekend; Gov. Cuomo Threatens, 'Don't Make Me Come Down There'
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - Social distancing guidelines appeared to have gone out the window in various popular areas of Manhattan over the weekend.
Video and photos posted on social media show crowds of people gathered outside bars and restaurants on the Upper East Side and in the East Village on Friday night.
While current rules allow for people to get takeout food and alcoholic drinks, they are supposed to be "grab and go," without gathering on sidewalks.
A photo posted on Twitter showed people purportedly "seven deep" near a restaurant on 84th Street and Second Avenue.
Another video posted on Twitter showed crowds of people on St. Mark's Place Friday night. The video shows a crowd up and down the street, many without masks, gathered outside a bar where a band was playing, resembling a packed block party.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo took notice of the video, and responded on Twitter by saying "Don't make me come down there."
Sen. Brad Hoylman, who represents St. Mark's Place, released a statement saying in part, "It's dangerous and irresponsible to abandon social distancing while the pandemic continues to rage ... Restaurants and bars need to get their act together. Public health is too important to get this wrong."
Hoylman went on to call for State Liquor Authority inspectors to work to enforce open container laws in Manhattan.
He also suggested, if social distancing violations continue, the governor reconsider the executive order permitting take-out and delivery alcohol service.
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On Saturday night, sidewalks around the city resembled massive bar crawls as people drank and partied, the pandemic appearing to have disappeared from memory.
"I have an app in my phone that sends me a text every day that says, 'You are going to die one day.' So I get that text and I think, well, what's it matter, now or in 50 years," Tom James, of Brooklyn, told CBS2's Christina Fan.
"It's time to reopen the United States of America," another man said before taking a sip of beer.
Charlie McCoy was out in the crowd giving free haircuts.
He said that so many people breaking the law is really an indicator that the economy has to reopen fastesr.
"We haven't worked in an entire quarter, 90 days. And if you are in our position, then you would understand why you want to kind of get active again," McCoy said.
But many people were uncomfortable with what they saw, including restaurant workers on Orchard Street on the Lower East Side, who tried at times, with little success, to disperse the crowds.
"You don't know who you might be coming in contact with, so when you see this many people, it's a little discomforting," said restaurant worker Vincent Aloi.
"We try to keep people off our benches unless they are buying stuff from us," said Gurpreet Singh.
Fed-up officials held a news conference Saturday night, calling on businesses and patrons to be more responsible. They also demanded guidance from the mayor and the governor to deal with the problem.
"It's a difficult situation because we are supposed to order, to take and to go, but there's no place to sit. That's not until Phase 2," Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said.
CBS2 saw a number of cases where marked police cars simply rolled past large crowds Saturday night.
The NYPD finally began enforcement around 8 p.m., driving up and down the block with their lights and sirens on, telling people to disperse and bars to stop serving.
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In a statement released Saturday, the executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance said while he understands small businesses' need to make money and people's desire to socialize, the industry is being set back by this behavior.
"Serving customers who hang out on the sidewalks and streets violating open container laws, and setting up tables before we are permitted, jeopardizes the progress we've made to flatten the curve. And serving patrons not wearing masks does not help either," the statement says.
The statement adds restaurants and bars are subjecting themselves to huge liability and possible suspension of their alcohol license.
"However, this pent-up demand demonstrates why our restaurants and bars need a lawful, regulated outdoor eating and drinking system now, and must be provided clear guidelines and expectations on when they can open outdoors and inside," the statement says.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has previously been adamant that the city would not tolerate such gatherings because of fears they would spread COVID-19, but that was before massive protests broke out demanding police reforms following the death of George Floyd.
Bars on the Upper East Side had previously surfaced as an area of concern, with the mayor vowing that bars and restaurants may be shut down if crowds gathered at their establishments.
"They will be visited immediately with inspectors and there'll be serious fines. And if we have to shut places down, we will if they're starting to violate these rules because this is about health and safety," de Blasio said in May.
The de Blasio administration and the NYPD had been criticized for apparent racial disparities in the enforcement of social distancing, prompting the mayor to announce a policy change, saying the NYPD would only focus on large gatherings.
The mayor also said last month, "The bigger the gathering, the more that needs to be done by the NYPD to make sure that gathering either never gets started to begin with or is quickly broken up. If we never need to take any additional enforcement action other than the NYPD showing up and people leaving, that's the ideal by far... Summonses are an available tool and they will be given if people do not disperse, but the goal is to not even get to the point of summonses, just to make sure that large gatherings don't happen."
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