Suffolk County is paving the way for expanded outdoor dining this summer in anticipation of restaurants being able to start serving in-person meals again soon.
“This is an activity that we believe can be done safely,” County Executive Steve Bellone said of during his daily briefing on Thursday.
While restaurants were deemed essential businesses under New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order in mid-March, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, they were limited to takeout and delivery. Reopening restaurants to seated diners, even outdoors, would not be allowed until Phase 3 of the governor’s reopening plan — or if Cuomo gives the green light sooner. Even then restaurants will be relegated to 50 percent of their regular capacity.
Long Island is currently just two days into Phase 1. Progressing to the next phase is expected every two weeks, if infection rates continue to decline, but Cuomo has suggested the process could be sped up, if appropriate.
“This is one of the areas we can see this accelerated,” Bellone said as he announced he was issuing an executive order that allows the Suffolk County Department of Health Services to automatically approve expansions when restaurants look to add seating outdoors, even if it is not currently permitted.
Restaurants will still need local approval for the extra outdoor seats, in part because many will be looking for use of municipal sidewalks. The executive order ensures that none of the county approvals hinder a business from expanding its seating outdoors.
“We have been communicating with a number of different associations representing the restaurant industry, speaking with individual entrepreneurs,” Bellone said. “They understand the importance of doing this safely.”
The county executive said town and village government officials are looking for creative ways to allow restaurants to offer outdoor dining on sidewalks and in back areas, possibly even under tents.
Courts Reopening on Long Island
Courts throughout Long Island will begin “the process of returning to in-person operations,” Bellone said. It is “another positive sign and indication of the progress that we’ve made.”
While state courthouses have reopened, town justice courts are opening on a more limited basis. Lisa Rana, the senior justice in terms served in East Hampton, who is also the village justice for Sag Harbor, said Thursday, “Nothing has changed, except people can now file small claims in civil court.” She said court dates will not be calendared yet.
People who want to plead guilty to a parking ticket can do so at the clerk’s window, and immediately pay the fine.
If you have been charged with a moving violation, you can enter the courthouse in the jurisdiction the citation was written up in, and enter a guilty plea, but you will not yet be able to pay the fine. Fines or penalties for violations will have to be assessed at a later date, she said.
The full staff will be on-hand in the clerk’s office at East Hampton Town Justice Court. The clerks’ office in East Hampton is spacious and allows for social distancing.
Anyone entering a courthouse will have to wear a face mask, according to a press release sent out Thursday from the office of Lawrence K. Marks, the chief administrative judge for the state. All staff members who interact with the public will be wearing masks as well. The halls of the courthouses across the state will be carefully marked to ensure social distancing.
Courthouses across the state will be regularly sanitized, and safety equipment, such as hand sanitizer dispensers and acrylic barriers, where needed, will be installed.
No Mask, No Entry
The governor issued an executive order Thursday allowing businesses to deny entry to those who do not wear masks or face coverings. Masks are mandatory in New York if proper social distancing protocol cannot be met.
T.E. McMorrow contributed reporting.