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All Erie County restaurants allowed to offer indoor dining at 50 percent capacity

Posted at 9:41 AM, Jan 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-14 17:39:48-05

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — All restaurants in orange zones statewide are allowed to immediately offer indoor dining at 50 percent capacity.

"After consultation with our legal counsel, and based solely on the preliminary injunction issued by NYS Supreme Court Justice Henry J. Nowak on January 13, 2021, ECDOH public health sanitarians will apply 'yellow zone' criteria to all permitted food service facilities that are currently located in 'orange zones,'" the Erie County Department of Health announced in a statement Thursday morning.

Several hours later, the state - citing the Nowak ruling - said restaurants in orange zones across the state can also operate under yellow zone guidelines.

Judge Nowak issued a preliminary injunction Wednesday night that allowed 90 restaurants that had sued New York State to offer indoor dining under yellow zone guidelines. This morning's announcement extends those less-restrictive guidelines to all dining establishments regardless of whether they were part of that lawsuit.

The preliminary injunction is in effect through Tuesday, when Judge Nowak will decide whether to keep the order he handed down in place permanently.

If an appellate court rules against Nowak's decision, all restaurants in Erie County must follow suit.

HoganWillig attorney Steve Cohen, who represented restaurant owners in Erie County, praised the decision by the county and the state that followed Judge Nowak's decision.

"We are pleased that Gov. Cuomo and County Executive Poloncarz are adopting the reasoning of Justice Nowak in allowing restaurants statewide to reopen on a yellow basis. I hope it is not too late to save this vital sector of the economy. We commend the governor and county executive," Cohen said in a statement.

Under yellow zone restrictions, restaurants can offer indoor dining with a maximum of four people per table and at least six feet of distance between tables. They must also end on-site food and beverage service at 10 p.m., although takeout service can continue beyond that.

Kumiki Gibson, counsel to the governor, released the following statement Thursday afternoon:

"A court decision yesterday temporarily granted a select few restaurants located within an Orange Zone in Erie County the ability to resume indoor dining under the rules governing Yellow Zones. We are reviewing the decision. While that process is ongoing, to ensure uniformity and fairness, all restaurants operating in Orange Zones can now operate under rules governing Yellow Zones. 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. 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."

In a separate decision, the state rejected a bid by local restaurant owners to lift the 10 p.m. curfew on Saturday for the Bills-Ravens game. The divisional round playoff game doesn't start until 8:15 p.m., which means establishments must end food and beverage service long before the game is over.