(Reuters) – New York City restaurants struggling to stay in business after months of closures imposed in the face of the coronavirus pandemic won a long-awaited approval on Wednesday to resume limited indoor dining.
But Los Angeles County health officials prohibited Halloween parties and said children should not be allowed to trick or treat during the popular fall holiday on Oct. 31.
The contrasting moves on opposite coasts of the United States came as new coronavirus infections have fallen for seven weeks in a row but the nationwide death toll since the pandemic broke out in March exceeded 190,000, according to a Reuters tally.
In New York City, Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday said indoor dining could resume at thousands of restaurants as of Sept. 30, although capacity was limited to 25 percent.
Cuomo had previously said lifting the ban could lead to a resurgence of the virus in New York, which has seen 32,000 deaths, more than any other U.S. state.
New York prides itself as one of the world’s culinary capitals, with a dining scene that spans from Michelin-star restaurants to homespun delis. It also acts as both a pillar of economic activity and a sounding board for city life.
The forced shutdowns led to widespread worries that many of the city’s restaurants would not survive the pandemic.
“Twenty-five percent is not that much, but it’s something where you can do some math and know, more or less, how many customers you can have every day,” said Giovanni Gelfini, owner of Santa Panza restaurant in Brooklyn.
Restaurants will also be required to take the temperature of diners and collect information from one member of each party for contact tracing in case of an outbreak. The state will establish a whistle-blowing system whereby patrons can anonymously report restaurants not in compliance.
New York City could raise the capacity to 50% after a reassessment conducted by Nov. 1, depending on infection rates, Cuomo said. Most of New York state is operating with indoor dining at 50% capacity.
SCARY AND RISKY
In Los Angeles, health officials said children should not be allowed to trick or treat because maintaining proper social distancing on porches and at front doors would be difficult and “because sharing food is risky.”
“Halloween gatherings, events or parties with non-household members are not permitted even if they are conducted outdoors,” the department said in statement entitled “Guidance for Celebrating Halloween.”
County health officials also banned Halloween carnivals, festivals, live entertainment and haunted houses.
Although the four most populous states – California, Florida, New York and Texas – account for about 40% of the 6.3 million U.S. infections, the Midwest has been hardest hit in recent weeks.
Iowa currently has one of the highest U.S. infection rates, with 15% of tests last week coming back positive. Nearby South Dakota has a positive test rate of 19% and North Dakota is at 18%, according to a Reuters analysis.
A surge linked to colleges reopening in Iowa and an August motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, are behind some of the recent spikes in cases.
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice expressed concern about his state’s transmission rate and urged residents to “buckle down” and try harder to stop the spread of the virus.
On a per-capita basis, the United States ranks 12th in the world for COVID-19 fatalities, with 58 deaths per 100,000 people, and 11th in the world for cases, with 1,933 cases per 100,000 residents, according to a Reuters analysis.
Graphic: Tracking the novel coronavirus in the U.S. – https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS-USA/0100B5K8423/index.html
(Reporting by Lisa Shumaker, Maria Caspani, Peter Szekely, Nathan Layne, Anurag Maan and Dan Whitcomb; Writing by Paul Simao and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Richard Chang)