NY Governor Andrew Cuomo on Filters Needed for Malls to Reopen and Slowing Down on Restaurant Indoor Dining

NY Governor Andrew Cuomo at his Press Conference today on June 29, 2020. Photo comes courtesy of the Office of the Governor of New York State.

Today, NY Governor Cuomo expanded upon his previous concerns over the need for proper air filtering. He also spoke about the possibility of reining in NYC’s indoor dining which was set to start with our entry into Phase 3 on July 6.

I asked the Governor last Friday about his concerns over other states’ metrics and whether that had an impact upon our venturing forward with reopening. I specifically referenced malls and the 50% capacity guidelines one sees repeatedly. He responded affirmatively.

With Phase 3 status, a region’s restaurants are allowed indoor dining at a limit of 50% capacity. Such has been the case for businesses, retail locations and other locales. Churches themselves are only allowed 25% with an increase to 33% in Phase 4.

Just as he did today, Mr. Cuomo went on about the need for the right sort of filter that would adequately deal with COVID-19. He expressed his concerns as they pertained to malls, movie theaters and gyms.

Connecticut has had its malls opened since it first entered Phase 1 on May 20. It’s done very well with health metrics, yet the Governor feels compelled to be as safe as possible. Especially considering how NY was once the largest epicenter of the Novel Coronavirus pandemic.

 “There are air filtration devices— air filters that can actually help with the COVID virus and NASA has studied these. There are HEPA filters, which are High-Efficiency Particulate Air filters that can actually filter out the COVID virus. The COVID virus is 0.1 microns. There are HEPA filters that can filter out 0.01, so any malls that will open in New York— large malls— we will make it mandatory that they have air filtration systems that can filter out the COVID virus. For many of these systems, it depends on what filter you install, called the MERV rating of the filter. But they have different filters that filter out different sized particles, and they have filters that can actually filter out and catch the COVID virus,” said the Governor today.

“For large mall re-openings— which we haven’t done yet— but we’re going to make this mandatory. I would recommend— the state recommends— for all businesses and offices, they explore the potential for their air conditioning/ air filtration system, adding a filter that can filter out the COVID virus. We have been looking at this issue because we look around the country and you’re seeing malls, you’re seeing air conditioning systems, indoor spaces that have been problematic. And we think this offers promise. “

We’re looking into the use of HEPA filters to see if other states (namely, Connecticut?) have made use of them where their malls are concerned.

It’s unclear if businesses would be allowed to go beyond the 50% capacity limit if/when they’ve installed the proper air filtration; or, for that matter, when the decision to allow gyms to reopen might come. I once wrote about 24 Hour Fitness’ approach of staggered reserved workouts. In another story, I spoke of LA Fitness’ initial reopening in certain states. Yet today, there’s news of infections concerning yet another gym chain. I wonder what the Governor might think of 24 Hour Fitness’ plan.

When I asked him about going beyond the 50% guidelines, I imagined he meant yes, we would go in that direction. Little did I think we might be going in the opposite direction. I’m referring to his possibly slowing down on indoor dining.

“One of the issues we’re working on in New York is indoor dining, which has been problematic in other parts of the country because the virus spreads in closed, indoor areas that have air-conditioned systems. Outdoor dining has worked very well all across the state, New York City included, so the state’s going to be reviewing the data and consulting with stakeholders in New York City,” Governor Cuomo said today.

“I’ve started speaking with restaurant owners and local stakeholders about the risk-reward on indoor dining. We’re going through the data, but this is a real issue. Our reopenings have worked very well. We’re not going backwards, we’re going forwards. A lot of these other states have actually had to go backwards because they started to reopen and they had to stop. We want to study this issue primarily New York City on indoor dining and we’ll have a final decision by Wednesday so people who operate those types of businesses will know what we’re doing.”