Lingering COVID Requirements for NYC Bars and Restaurants Amount to Pointless Hygiene Theater

Theatrical safety checks don't keep people safe—vaccines do.


In a city where 62.8 percent of adults have received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose, and 54.4 percent of adults are fully vaccinated, it makes little sense why New York City's governing bodies continue to exercise heavy-handed control over what private restaurants and bars do to protect their patrons from COVID. It makes even less sense when you consider the specific regulations still in place, and how many of them are relics of a form of shoddy hygiene theater that made some limited amount of sense earlier in the pandemic, before we knew how the virus worked, but are not scientifically justified now.

Current guidance, updated most recently on May 7, requires that temperature checks be conducted upon arrival and that tables remain spaced six feet apart from each other (or have pointless plexiglass barriers, which "must be at least five feet in height," for some reason, installed between booths). As of May 19, restaurants may finally reopen at full capacity for the first time since March 2020—a welcome opportunity for entrepreneurs whose businesses have been crippled by lockdowns and patchwork reopening guidance—but the regulations placed on them make very little sense. For some New York restaurants, the requirement to keep tables six feet apart from each other will even make it so they cannot truly operate at full capacity if they want to remain in compliance.

Customers are finally allowed to sit at the bar, but only "provided a distance of at least six feet can be maintained between parties (i.e., groups of patrons)." Bar and restaurant proprietors are still expected to "put in place measures to reduce bi-directional foot traffic…by using tape or signs with arrows in narrow aisles, hallways, or spaces," placing "distance markers denoting spaces of six feet in all commonly used areas."

Though the nonsensical midnight curfews for indoor and outdoor dining have finally been lifted citywide, many other pointless measures remain in place. Just as they've been forced to for the last 15 months, business owners must continue to navigate a maze of state- and city-imposed restrictions that fail to take into account the idea that maybe they're the ones best suited to decide what works for their own staff and customers.

Some hygiene measures are thankfully beginning to be lifted: The state's mask mandates are no longer in place indoors if restaurants require proof of vaccination for staff and customers. For those customers, too, distancing requirements are no longer in place, but it's logistically incredibly difficult for businesses to verify that and to implement different policies for vaccinated and unvaccinated patrons (who might even be in the same party). Midnight curfews, which never made sense since they forced people to convene within a shorter timeframe (and sometimes even shifted revelry indoors to cramped apartments), were lifted for outdoor dining in mid-May, and for indoor dining just a few days ago.

It's fine for private businesses to take measures to restore a degree of confidence for their more skittish customers so that they will finally venture out into the world. But the measures that many of them have implemented, both those mandated by law and those voluntarily opted into because they're standard practice expected by anxious customers, are not actually particularly useful for preventing the spread of COVID, a virus we now know a lot about.

Consider temperature checks, which only screen for one COVID symptom, which may or may not be present if someone is contagious; plexiglass barriers, which do not make sense for a virus that spreads via airborne transmission of aerosols; markers on the floor, which direct people through separate entrances and exits and do not make sense for a virus that is spread through longer-duration close contact (not few-second encounters); the theatrical practice of masking up to enter a restaurant, then walking to your table and keeping your mask off for the rest of the evening, the part with talking and laughing, donning it only to use the bathroom (where, for New York's many single-occupancy facilities, you will not run into a single other soul unless you invite them).

Though these remnants of hygiene theater may seem like trivial inconveniences not worth forcefully opposing, it would be wrong to keep in place measures that make people feel safe but actually spread bad information about how this virus spreads. Getting vaccinated provides the best protection; plexiglass barriers and entrance/exit floor markers won't do the trick.

NEXT: The One Where Friends Has a Reunion Episode

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. As California says, “hold my chardonnay….”

    California’s workplace standards board (think OSHA but in California) voted to make all workers in an office (even those vaccinated) wear masks if even one person in the office is not vaccinated.

    1. Same logic as a “code red” – collective punishment.

      1. Making money online more than 15$ just by doing simple work from home. I have received $18376 last month. Its an easy and simple job to do and its earnings are much better than regular office job and even a little child can ddsa do this and earns money. Everybody must try this job by just use the info
        on this page…..VISIT HERE

  2. Now you’re asking yourself, was it worth it to live in such a place and why not move.

  3. NYC maintains status as place to not be. Film @11

    1. Come to enjoy the sights without all the tourists.
      Stay because you were stabbed on the subway.

  4. or have pointless plexiglass barriers, which “must be at least five feet in height,” for some reason, installed between booths

    Big Plexiglass. Duh.

    1. Made from oil.

      Seems they are doing a disservice to their own environmental agenda.

    2. …plexiglass barriers,
      They had to find something that was even stupider than strapping old tee shirts across your face.

  5. “it makes little sense why New York City’s governing bodies continue to exercise heavy-handed control over what private restaurants and bars do to protect their patrons from COVID”

    It makes perfect sense if you are a fascist.

  6. Wolfe, I’ma gonna let you in on a little secret.

    No one cares about what idiocy NYC is doing today. The rest of us have ignored them from the start and, frankly, just find it amusing that you guys are still impotently railing against regulations you don’t like rather than – like the rest of the country – just go about your daily lives and dare the state to do something.

    Its why states like Arizona, Texas, Florida, etc have state governments that are very reticent about putting out their arm and yelling ‘stop!’ – because we’ve very publicly ran them over before.

    They ‘advise’, they ‘suggest’, they rarely ‘enforce’. They rarely have to.

    1. Its why states like Arizona, Texas, Florida, etc have state governments that are very reticent about putting out their arm and yelling ‘stop!’ – because we’ve very publicly ran them over before.

      Conservative backlash!

    2. Agree. It’s just that simple. Ignore these idiots and live your life. Thank you

      1. Is that the difference between living in a state where voters will punish a politician for enforcing the rules vs cheering them? I still don’t know how a lot of blue states ended up with voters who simultaneously believe in the vaccine and also also remain terrified of the virus post-vaccination (In an similarly perplexed how red states ended up with lots of folks who are consider taking the vaccine reckless but will happily take their chances with the virus).

  7. It was ALWAYS hygiene theater

    1. Yup.

      Georgia never had these restrictions nor any mask restrictions. We’re doing great!

  8. In King County, the official disposition from the health department remains unmoved:

    Masks today, Masks tomorrow, Masks forever.

    1. Fuck Phil Mur…Hold up, King County isn’t in jersey.

      Fuck him anyway.

      1. If it’s a good idea, it’s a good idea anywhere – – – – – – – – – –

      2. Absolutely yes = Fuck Phil Murphy

    2. and to digest that statement, then ponder the fact that King County runs the rest of the state, is more than enough to make one ponder buying a large truck and laoding it up wiht everything you own.

      For further amusement, ponder the fact that no one ver said BOO aboubt all the rioters not wearing mug nappies, nor “socialist distancing”, not to dwell overmuch on the destruction and lawbreaking and civil disturbance, aided and abetted by both seattle’s and King County’s “governments”.

      Nor do they enforce the various mandates and controls in the camps where thousands of the city’s homeless vagrants do whatever they feel like doing whenever they feel like doing it.

      And tney wonder why they are tne laughingstock of the state and much of the West Coast, and despised by all thinking beings.

  9. “Pointless Hygiene Theater”

    Better than anything on Broadway.

    1. Band name?

      What genre would they perform?

      1. Grunge, obviously.

  10. They’ve been theater the entire time. The actual data from the real world is clear and convincing.

  11. Pointless theater?

    I’m still taking my shoes off at the airport.

    1. Only in the US. The rest of the world doesn’t do it. Only the United States of Retards.

  12. Getting vaccinated provides the best protection;

    ARE YOU SERIOUS?? Have you READ the data sheets that coe wiht the injections (which are NOT “vaccines” at all)? Those sheets, the ones from all thre manufacturers, clearly state that this prodiuct DOES NOT prevent contracting the disease in question, NOR does it prevent transmission from the one injected with it to others round about him. The ONLY benefit presented by the manufacturers is that it MAY slightly reduce SYMPTOMS in the event one does contract the disease.

    The “hijinks theatre” hs been a twisted sick joke since the beginning more than a year ago. thirdy micron hole cannot stop, or even sgnficantly delay, a .125 micron object.

    and NO ON I’ve raed in the lamswtreaem media has said one word about what supplements one can wisely take that are cheap, readily availble, and effecive, with no harmful side effects of note, which substances WILL srengthen one’s God give immune sstem to fight off that and every other virus that might come floaing along.

    Vitamins will do far more to PREVENT one contracting the Fauthcee Flu than any of the DANGEROUS injections being touted as “vaccines” whcih are not

  13. Theatrical safety checks don’t keep people safe—vaccines do.
    Hmm. No love for natural immunity? Seems to be a common thread at Reason.
    “Natural immunity comes from battling and defeating an actual infection, then having your immune system primed for the rest of your life to fight it off if it ever shows up again. This immunity is achieved at a sometimes very high personal price.
    Vaccine-induced immunity is to prime your immune system with a weaker, non-threatening form of the invading infection, so that it’s ready to fight off the real thing should you ever encounter it, and without your having first to risk severe illness or death.
    Those interested in herd immunity in itself likely don’t have a moral or political preference for one form of immunity to the exclusion of the other. Immunity is immunity, regardless of whether a particular person has it naturally or by a vaccine. All immunity contributes to herd immunity.
    Others, however, are much less circumspect. They seem to have forgotten the ultimate goal of the public campaign for people to receive vaccination against Covid-19. It’s not to be vaccinated; it’s to have immunity. People with natural immunity — i.e., people whose immune systems have faced Covid-19 and won — don’t need a vaccine.
    There are two prongs to herd immunity, as we used to all know, and those with natural immunity are the prong that’s being ignored. It’s not just mere oversight, however. Fostering such ignorance can lead to several bad outcomes:
    People with natural immunity could be kept from employment, education, travel, normal commerce, and who knows what other things if they don’t submit to a vaccine they don’t need in order to fulfill a head count that confuses a means with the end
    The nation could already be at herd immunity while governors and health bureaucrats continue to exert extreme emergency powers, harming people’s liberties and livelihoods
    People already terrified of Covid — including especially those who’ve already had it — would continue to live in fear, avoiding human interaction and worrying beyond all reason
    People could come to distrust even sound advice from experts about important matters, as they witness and grow to expect how what “the experts” counsel diverges from what they know to be wise counsel while it conforms to and amplifies the temporary needs of the political class”

    Seems a bit odd that Reason criticizes hygiene theater but fully supports vaccine theater.

    1. Natural immunity was never the long term solution because the virus keeps mutating as long as it circulates. If you artificially stop spread through vaccines you hopefully forestall further mutation. Unfortunately it’s still possible vaccine resistant mutants will emerge as long it rages unchecked in places like India.

      1. After running rampant for a year and a half, the virus still hasn’t come up with a variant that is highly resistant to vaccinated or natural immunity. Not saying it is impossible that something won’t pop up eventually, but it doesn’t seem particularly likely, and is definitely not the foregone conclusion that many people treat it. At the very least, all this talk of annual boosters against variants seems to be optimistic fantasies by vaccine manufacturers. People forget just how weird and rare it is that influenza is able to mutate so much. Everything else we get vaccinated against is far, far more stable.

    2. I do think one issue with natural immunity is knowing with certainty whether one has had the virus. I have seen a number of people claim to have had the virus after a bout of moderate illness, that, when asked, will admit to not having been tested (or more humorously, will have tested negative but are convinced that the test was wrong).

      I haven’t seen the latest figures on how specific the antibody tests are. My impression is that they weren’t good enough to have confidence.

      However, if someone had a positive PCR test and it wasn’t ones of those 35 cycle insanities, they should be treated as immune.

      I’m actually still a bit surprised those folks weren’t put at the back of the line for vaccination, back when they were in critically short supply. That doctor which already recovered from COVID didn’t need a vaccine before grandma.

  14. I guess “vaccine” is shorthand for “experimental gene therapy”.

Please to post comments