Governor Andrew Cuomo kicked off Thanksgiving week at a press briefing in Midtown on Monday, where he delivered a lecture on safety protocols for our Pandemic Thanksgiving. As he has been saying for weeks, he once again told New Yorkers to stay at home for the holiday. "It's not the traditional Thanksgiving," he said, noting that this year we show our gesture of love and gratitude by not showing up at the dinner table.
“Why don’t we really honor that this Thanksgiving?” the governor said. “And saying yes, we’re going to be alone physically but we are spiritually together celebrating in a way that is even deeper than just the proximate location of sitting next to someone.”
Later that day, it was revealed that he had not been planning to follow his own guidance, when he let it slip during a radio interview that his 89-year-old mother was going to come to Albany for Thanksgiving. “My mom is going to come up and two of my girls,” he said on WAMC, adding, “The plans change. But that’s my plan.”
After receiving immediate criticism, he backpedaled through a spokesperson, who released a statement on Monday evening saying that the governor will not see his family on the holiday, but will work instead.
"As the Governor said, he had been discussing seeing his mother with two of his daughters for a four person Thanksgiving in accordance with all state issued guidance, but as he also said the plans were still changing and given the current circumstances with COVID, he will have to work through Thanksgiving and will not be seeing them," spokesperson Rich Azzopardi said in a statement. "Don't tell his mom—she doesn't know yet."
All that aside, Governor Cuomo's messaging around the holidays has actually been pretty clear, and uncharacteristically aligned with that of Mayor Bill de Blasio's: stay at home. Don't mix households. And whatever you do, don't travel.
Cuomo has emphasized that travel is a problem because every state except Vermont and Maine have higher infection rates than New York, but he's also stated that there is no "safe zone" at home this holiday season—hence why he isn't picking up his own daughter in Chicago for this year's festivities. "Your safe zone, it's not a safe zone," he said Monday. "Your safe zone is dangerous this year. Please -- love is sometimes doing what's hard. This year, if you love someone, it is smarter and better to stay away."
And yet, even with the two officials issuing warnings against Thanksgiving gatherings in a private family home, indoor dining is still open for business throughout the city and state.
At his briefing on Monday, the governor declared: "I'm sitting there last night. I'm watching television. All these commercials, Thanksgiving is coming... people around a table, everybody drinking, passing turkey, laughing, kissing, hugging. Yeah, all beautiful pictures of Thanksgiving in the storybook setting, the way we wish it could be. Those commercials have nothing to do with what this Thanksgiving should be." And yet, it's under his own guidelines that you can do exactly this indoors at a restaurant; in fact, the press releases are still pouring in promoting scenes just like this.
Mayor de Blasio has stated multiple times in recent days that he has spoken to Cuomo about the subject, and de Blasio believes more parts of the city will be designated orange zones in the next week or two, which triggers a halt to indoor dining. Restaurants have already begun planning for this eventuality; the entire industry is desperate for a federal stimulus in order to survive these seemingly inevitable closures this winter.
Welcome to month nine of the pandemic, where mixed messages are up a tick.
Part of the problem is that the state and city use different data to determine COVID test positivity rates—so while according to the city's data, NYC has long since passed the 3% 7-day average positivity rate, the state's data puts the city at just over 2.5% for that figure currently.
Cuomo has been more invested in a strategy of targeting micro-clusters in individual neighborhoods and areas, rather than more sweeping policy changes.
"Why close down businesses in a neighborhood that's doing better? It makes no sense," Cuomo said during a press conference on Tuesday afternoon. "There is no citywide number beyond the collective of the individual numbers."
But will that strategy still hold if the city rate goes above 3% overall? Cuomo and advisor Melissa DeRosa implied that it would not—that the city going above 3% would trump any micro-cluster strategies—and that there's an expectation that the numbers will increase across the board after the Thanksgiving weekend. "Is it possible all these numbers would be showing 3% as we go thought the holiday season? Yeah it's possible, especially if you think you're going to wind up at 9%," Cuomo added.
Studies have shown that restaurants, gyms and other indoor venues accounted for around 80% of new infections in the early months of the pandemic in the U.S. As coronavirus cases have started skyrocketing around the country, major cities like Los Angeles have already ended not just indoor, but also outdoor dining.
In most of the city, indoor dining is currently permitted at 25% capacity with a limit of ten people per table. But when a restaurant finds itself in a yellow zone, only four people are allowed per table. Indoor dining is stopped completely in orange zones, and outdoor dining can continue only with four people per table; and all indoor and outdoor dining is paused in red zones, where only takeout/delivery is allowed. On Monday, parts of upper Manhattan, Staten Island and other areas of New York state were all shifted to various zones before the holidays.
Cuomo said on Tuesday that he didn't expect any updates or changes to the city zones until after Thanksgiving.
He also defended changing his mind about having Thanksgiving with his mother, and the seemingly contradictory advice he was giving New Yorkers about how to spend the holiday.
"I never said to anyone, you should be alone," he said. "CDC guidance is only your household. Their guidance is stronger than ours. Ours is no more than 10. You can be with your mother. A lot of people are going to be with their mother."
Some of those people may even do so inside of a local restaurant.