Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said his office and the Department of Health “continue to get complaints” about eateries not abiding by New York’s COVID-19 safety protocols.
“We continue to send folks out,” Poloncarz said. “We have had some pretty stern conversations with bar and restaurant owners, letting them know that our intention is not to shut you down. But we will if we have to. We want to work with you, we want to find a way to keep your business operating, because we want to keep our economy as strong as possible. We don't want people to be laid off from work again. But if somebody is violating the law, they will be shut down, if that's what we need to do.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently said all restaurants and bars statewide are subject to new requirements that they must only serve alcohol to people who are ordering and eating food, and that all service at bar tops must only be for seated patrons who are socially distanced by 6 feet or separated by physical barriers.
Under current law, only establishments that serve food are permitted to serve alcoholic beverages.
The governor created a joint New York State Liquor Authority/New York State Police Task Force to conduct compliance checks.
After state investigators observe violations, formal charges are then filed and fines may be issued. In egregious cases, including when the SLA finds the continued operation of a licensed business threatens public health and safety, emergency summary suspensions are imposed. Suspension orders are served immediately and remain in effect indefinitely, with the maximum penalty including the permanent revocation of the license and fines of up to $10,000 per violation.
So far this week, the task force has conducted 1,131 compliance checks, observing violations at 55 establishments.
Poloncarz said, “We have received over 1,800 complaints to date. We have used that information to cite and write violations of the law with regards to establishments. As we've talked about in the past, we've had to shut down some establishments. We have not had to shut down any in the last a week or so, which is a good thing. I think bars and restaurants are finally getting the message that we will shut you down if you don't follow the rules. So, it's important that they follow the rules. I think they're realizing, for their own financial success as well as the success of our community, it makes sense for them to follow the rules.
“We do not want to go backwards, which is what happened in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is not on the (travel advisory) list of quarantine communities, but, unfortunately in Pennsylvania, Gov. (Tom) Wolf pulled back the indoor dining, as well as the drinking in bars, because he did not like what they were seeing, which was the transmission in bars and restaurants.
“We know individuals (in Erie County) are catching COVID-19 in bars and restaurants, because they're telling us that this is where they were before they caught it. Our contract tracers find that out.”
In addition to social distancing, patrons at eateries are required to wear a mask when not seated at their own table.