Chairs against a bar at an empty restaurant.

The state began utilizing the current cluster zone system in early December.

New York Opens Indoor Dining to More Areas

A state judge said the dining ban had no "rational basis."

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is now allowing restaurants in orange zones to resume indoor dining after a New York Supreme Court judge granted a preliminary injunction for restaurants in Erie County. 

In light of the court ruling, areas that were restricted to orange zone rules will now abide by yellow zone rules, which allow 50 percent capacity and no more than four people per table.

There is a possibility that New York could appeal the ruling. Kumki Gibson, counsel to Cuomo, said the governor’s office is reviewing the decision. He added that while that review process is underway, the state decided to lift the indoor dining ban across all orange zones to ensure uniformity and fairness. 

“We disagree with the court’s decision and its impact on public health as Federal CDC data clearly demonstrates indoor dining increases COVID-19 spread,” Kumki said in a statement. “From the start of this pandemic, the State has acted based on facts and the advice of public health experts, and we will continue that approach.”

The court ruling, announced Wednesday, came after a group of more than 90 restaurants argued that there isn’t enough scientific evidence to support banning indoor dining. In his decision, the judge wrote that he couldn’t find evidence that New York had a “rational basis” to designate Erie County as an orange zone. He also noted the negative effects the indoor dining ban has had on restaurants. 

“The loss of goodwill that corresponds with a viable business is not readily quantifiable and constitutes irreparable harm warranting the grant of preliminary injunctive relief,” the judge wrote. “Petitioners have also demonstrated that the Orange Zone designation has caused loss.”

The state began utilizing the current cluster zone system in early December. Areas are defined as either red, orange, or yellow zones, with red being the most restrictive and yellow being the least restrictive. 

Orange zones are when a geographic area has a 4 percent positive rate over the last 10 days and is located in a region that has reached 85 percent hospital capacity. Up until Thursday, only outdoor dining was allowed in these zones, with a four-person maximum at each table.

The change doesn’t affect New York City, which has an indoor dining ban independent of the cluster system. Cuomo decided to close dining rooms December 14 after hospitalization rates in the city didn’t stabilize. 

“The court's preliminary decision and the Governor’s action to remove indoor dining restrictions in all ‘orange zones’ makes the status of the indoor dining ban in New York City all the more outrageous and destructive to thousands of restaurants across the five boroughs, especially when our infection and hospitalization rates are lower than most counties in the State where indoor dining is permitted at 50 percent occupancy,” said Andrew Rigie, NYC Hospitality Alliance executive director, in a statement. “Continuation of the indoor dining ban in New York City is divorced from any of the data and criteria the State has articulated and must be ended now.”