In an abrupt announcement last Thursday, the federal centers for disease control and prevention new guidelines issued that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks or stay socially far away in most outdoor and indoor settings – including restaurants. On Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo confirmed that New York would adopt the CDC relaxed rules starting Wednesday, May 19, the day NYC restaurants and bars are 100 percent indoor.
“Individual private venues still have the option to add additional guidelines to the state guidelines and the CDC guidelines,” Cuomo said in a press conference on Monday. “But for our part we are taking over the CDC and saying let’s open up.”
The unexpected shift in federal and state regulations has left NYC restaurants and bars alone to reinforce their mask guidelines, which many still prefer as a measure of public health safety for employees and customers. The CDC’s most recent guidelines on wearing masks, particularly in recent days, have highlighted an issue that is blurring the lines of politics, science, and culture – from concerns to new variations to party loyalty.
Over the weekend, before Cuomo’s announcement, restaurants and bars included Best order in Crown Heights, Judy and Punch in Astoria and Chilos Messages were posted on Instagram in Bed-Stuy and Greenwood confirming that customers will still have to wear masks regardless of the CDC update.
The news wasn’t always effective. At Chilo’s, across from Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, General Manager Carlos Cruz saw customers repeatedly going to the restaurant without a mask last weekend. When Cruz and his staff instructed customers to put on masks, some people claimed they simply didn’t have a mask – a response Cruz hadn’t heard much before last weekend. “It was the first time that we provided masks [to customers] since the beginning of the pandemic, “says Cruz.
Similar scenes took place at Chilo’s other locations in Bed-Stuy and Mayfield in Crown Heights. Both rooms belong to the same group of restaurants and are managed by Cruz. Some customers were “combative,” says Cruz, and others were openly confused that despite the “no mask, no service” signs posted in every restaurant, the restaurant still needed masks in the face of new CDC guidelines. “People rolled their eyes and didn’t understand,” says Cruz. “It was exhausting.”
In addition, about 20 percent of Cruz’s employees are not yet fully vaccinated and he is concerned about employee health safety given the relaxed mask regulations. “People are still getting sick,” says Cruz. “I know the cases are going back, but it still goes on.”
In the East Village vegetarian hotspot Superiority Burger Posted A note on Instagram on Saturday stating that masks are still required for the service. Owner Brooks Headley says people mostly followed the restaurant’s rules. “Occasionally we get a ding dong who wants to order maskless and puffs and puffs when we (always politely!) Ask them to put one on,” Headley said in an email. “I mean, if you really want to have a tantrum while ordering food, expect us to make merciless fun in the kitchen when you leave. Comedy gold for days! “
Others say customers didn’t need reminders to keep their masks on. Elizabeth Yee, the owner of Tonii’s Fresh Rice Noodle in Manhattan’s Chinatown, said she had no issues with enforcing mask guidelines or social distancing over the weekend. “I’m in the heart of Chinatown and the people in the neighborhood are locals who care for one another,” says Yee. “Wearing a mask with other people now only seems to be respectable. Just like greeting people, wearing a face mask is now just a courtesy. At least that’s how I saw it. “
Headley made the same point, reiterating Yee’s belief that masks are a polite token of respect for others. Superiority Burger will “absolutely” maintain its own mask mandate for the foreseeable future, regardless of the change in government guidelines later this week. “The politicization of masks is just so stupid,” says Headley. “I spent three months in Tokyo before Covid and people there wear masks as a courtesy. It is a polite thing to do. ”
But for some facilities, ongoing mask mandates will likely be an uphill battle with customers. Cruz de Chilo and Mayfield says restaurants will continue to require masks, regardless of state regulations, “for the mental and physical health of all.” However, he is preparing for customer pushback. Guests have already misunderstood other relaxed government regulations – including removing the curfew on restaurants and eliminating the need to order food with alcohol – as new mandates for all businesses. Cruz and his staff keep repeating that Chilo and Mayfield still close before midnight, and they can – and do – still require customers to purchase take-away groceries with their alcohol purchases.
“We are more stressed than when the pandemic started,” says Cruz. “It’s really hard that people don’t seem to care.”