Hundreds of local restaurants trapped in the orange zone

Jennifer Lewke
Updated: December 30, 2020 06:10 PM
Created: December 30, 2020 05:52 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — It’s now been six weeks since hundreds of local restaurants in the orange zone were closed for indoor-dining. New York State originally said that restaurants were a major source of COVID-19 spread but contact tracing data shows that’s not really the case anymore; the restaurant owners feel forgotten.

The entire Finger Lakes region has blown past the metrics that originally trigged the orange zone in parts of it. Restaurant owners in that zone have been anxiously waiting for word on what’s next.

“You listen and you listen and you listen (to the Governor’s briefings) and you wait and then they're over and you're like wait nothing happened, nobody else got shut down, why am I shut down? We're not getting reopened? After five weeks, it's just been really, really terrifying,” said Kelly Metras who owns Salena's and Nox Restaurant, both of which are in the orange zone. 

“We had to lay-off between our two restaurants, 42 people, two days before Thanksgiving, it was so sad,” said Rene Spallina the Owner of Pane Vino on the River and Pane Vino on the Avenue—both of which are in the orange zone.  

A few weeks ago, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that future shutdowns would be based on hospital capacity instead of positivity rates in a given region but he stopped short of saying those businesses already closed could re-open.  

“Those guidelines if we fell under them would've left us open at 50% like the rest of the area yet we were still closed down in our dining rooms,” explained Metras.  

On Wednesday, during his briefing, News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke asked the Governor about this directly.  

Jennifer Lewke (News10NBC): "Good afternoon Governor, most of the regions across the state have completely blown past the metrics that originally triggered orange zones. Here in the Finger Lakes, restaurants in that Orange Zone have been closed to indoor dining while those outside of it, some in zip-codes that actually have a higher positivity rate, have not. You’ve changed the metrics moving forward for shutdowns, but what about those still impacted by the prior metrics?"

Gov. Cuomo: "Let’s take the Finger Lakes for example, you’re seeing the rate in the Finger Lakes continue to go up despite the orange zone restrictions. If you didn't have those restrictions you'd have an even higher rate. You have the highest hospitalization rate in the state of New York with the restrictions. So, would you ever relax restrictions when the numbers are still going up and in your the highest in the state no, I don’t think that would be intelligent. One would assume if you didn’t have the restrictions the rate would be even higher.  You’re also right in the suggestion that the restrictions aren't as effective anymore as they were. Less effective than they were let's say initially.  That may be true because more of the spread is coming from the social gatherings.  It’s coming from the holidays, it’s from people over at the house for Christmas or for Hanukah or Kwanza.  It’s from people coming over on a Saturday to watch the Buffalo Bills game, it's coming from people who say let's get a group together and have a drink for the new year, that has nothing to do with restaurants and schools etc. that's just social behavior and that's over 75% of the spread.  Now, restaurants are right up there as one of the causes and where we have identified causes that we can control, we’ve acted but what’s causing the issue now is the 75% from social gatherings."

The governor’s own contact tracing data from before the holidays showed restaurants and bars statewide were responsible for 1.4% of COVID-19 transmission but he stopped short of saying there any changes to the orange zone on the horizon.

“Now we're just kind of in this crisis mode that you just kind of live with this extra panic and anxiety all of the time,” Metras said.

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