ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo scolded the crowds of young people gathering outside of bars over the weekend and threatened to reimpose lockdown restrictions if localities don’t enforce social distancing rules.
“The bad bar operators in terms of restaurants and bars, they’re going to make it bad for everyone and for themselves,” Cuomo said. “We will have to roll back the bar and restaurant opening. If congregations continue, if the local governments don’t stop it, that is what is going to happen.”
While Cuomo pointed at large gatherings in New York City, he said crowds are a statewide issue.
“Don’t be stupid,” he said.
With just 30 investigators, the state Liquor Authority (SLA) doesn’t have the reach to directly respond to each initial report, he said.
County health officials must forward complaints to the SLA for investigation.
“We cannot do this level of enforcement without local governments and local police departments,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo’s warning comes after he pledged to shut down bars with three violations (particularly “egregious” violations can result in immediate closure) last week and tightened regulations, including requiring all bars and taverns to serve food with drink orders.
SLA didn’t respond for comment on Monday when asked about how many complaints the state agency received over the weekend from bars in Schenectady and Saratoga counties and how many businesses were visited and ultimately cited (if any).
Despite throngs of bar-goers flocking to Saratoga Springs this weekend for the opening of race season, county officials indicated compliance isn’t an issue.
“While the Saratoga County Sheriff’s department has received hundreds of complaints over the last few months about businesses opening early or not following reopening guidelines, only a handful have been for restaurants or bars,” said county Sheriff Michael Zurlo. “In each of those instances, we educate first, and then refer those complaints to the Attorney General through the New York Pause website.”
Zurlo said the “educate first” approach is bearing fruit.
“While enforcement is up to each jurisdiction, to date, we’ve had no repeat violations from businesses that we’ve visited,” he said.
Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton said she wasn’t familiar with Cuomo’s comments and the Saratoga Springs Police Department didn’t respond for comment.
Schenectady County is also stressing educational efforts.
While the county couldn’t immediately provide the number of bar and restaurant complaints received since those sectors began the phased-in opening approach in mid-May, the county typically receives one or two general complaints daily, said county Manager Rory Fluman, not just those limited to bars and restaurants.
“We get a handful of them,” Fluman said. “When they come in, we always start with education and start with a phone call first.”
Persistent complaints warrant a response from the county Public Health Department, said Fluman, who declined to identify repeat offenders.
“I hate to name businesses by name, but we’ve had a few,” Fluman said. “I would say there are under five where there’s been more than one complaint.”
Bars are not only reduced to operating at half-capacity, but their patrons are also prohibited from ordering at the bar itself, having to do so while seated at tables.
Sgt. Nick Mannix said city police, too, have received few complaints about potential violations.
“We’ve haven’t really gotten any complaints,” Mannix said. “It’s nothing that’s been alarming, which is what we were worried about.”
Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino said he receives between six and 12 complaints per day through the state hotline for all violations.
“My position is to notify businesses that they could risk having suspension of their state licenses and permits,” Giardano said.
The shifting regulations have resulted in some creative workarounds, including the “Cuomo Chips” offered by Harvey’s Restaurant & Bar in Saratoga Springs last week, a move that garnered national headlines.
The bar said the attempt at levity shouldn’t be mistaken for a political statement.
“At no point has this business been lacking in compliance,” Harvey’s wrote on Facebook. “We feel very strongly here that we have an obligation to do our utmost to protect our guests and our staff. And if you’ve been here, there is no question as to our dedication to that effect.”
Cuomo said the safeguards are critical in keeping the virus at bay in New York, where the positive infection rate is 1.05 percent and hospitalizations are at the lowest level since March 18.
But young people flouting guidelines is just one of the threats that may lead to the resurgence of the virus, Cuomo said.
The other is travelers coming from states where the virus is surging, said the governor, who traveled to Savannah, Georgia on Monday to lend state resources to help that city fight the ongoing pandemic, including medical gear and establishing two test sites in minority neighborhoods.
Despite the mandatory quarantine for hard-hit states, the governor won’t be going into self-isolation for 14 days upon his return later on Monday.
Essential workers are exempt, he said, and the self-isolation period doesn’t apply to those traveling for less than 24 hours.
Giardano acknowledged an uptick in outsiders is spurring local attention.
“I’m starting to get complaints now about out-of-state plates in the neighborhoods,” Giardano said.