Q&A: How New York's ban on large events, limit on occupancy will work

Jon Campbell USA Today Network
Photo: Mark Vergari/The Journal News)

ALBANY – Planning on going to a concert or sporting event anytime soon in New York? Think again.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday announced he would ban gatherings of 500 people or more as the state tries to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

He also implemented new capacity restrictions on restaurants, bars and other businesses, restricting them to 50% of their listed occupancy.

Cuomo laid it all out in an executive order Friday, with the event ban and capacity limit set to take effect at 5 p.m.

Here's what you need to know:

Which events will be canceled in New York?

Under Cuomo's order, any gathering in New York that is expected to draw at least 500 people must be canceled or postponed.

That includes concerts, large weddings, fundraisers, theater, large church services — anything with expected attendance of at least 500.

The ban applies to events for at least the next 30 days from Friday, March 13, when the order was issued.

That period of time could easily be extended; Cuomo has said he will keep the ban in place until the coronavirus outbreak recedes.

What about restaurants, bars and other businesses?

Any other place of business — with some exceptions, including retail — will be subject to a different limitation, according to Cuomo's order: Their occupancy or seating capacity will be cut in half.

That includes restaurants and bars.

Here's how it works: If a building has an official maximum capacity of 200 people, it will only be allowed to have a maximum of 100 people at a time for as long as Cuomo's order remains in effect.

If a restaurant has a seating capacity of 80, they will be able to seat 40.

That capacity limitation applies to "any place of business or public accommodation," or any gathering with anticipated attendance of less than 500 people.

How about schools, hospitals, etc.?

They're exempt from both the event ban and the capacity restriction.

Cuomo's order includes a number of exemptions for a variety of facilities that could reasonably see attendance of more than 500 at a given time.

That includes schools, hospitals, nursing homes, other medical offices or facilities, mass transit, government offices, law-enforcement buildings and retail establishments, including grocery stores.

Other businesses — such as factories with large numbers of employees on the floor — can apply for an exemption from state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker.

When does the event ban and capacity limit take effect?

They start at 5 p.m. Friday, March 13.

It took effect a day earlier for theaters in New York City, particularly those on Broadway.

How long will they stay in effect?

That's to be determined.

Under state law, Cuomo can keep it in effect as long as the state is responding to a disaster, like it is with the coronavirus. The governor declared a state of emergency last week.

On Thursday, Cuomo said he will keep it in effect as long as the number of coronavirus cases remains on the rise in New York.

"I can't tell you anything more than the numbers tell me," he said. "I see those numbers going up on the number of cases, on the number of hospitalizations, I see those going up and I adjust on the numbers."

What's the point of the event ban and capacity restriction?

The actions are aimed at reducing density among people.

The coronavirus spreads through close contact with someone who is infected — about 6 feet — or droplets left behind from coughs, sneezes and the like, according to the CDC.

By eliminating large gatherings and reducing capacity in businesses, Cuomo said he's hopeful it will reduce crowded situations throughout the state that can lead to the spread of COVID-19.

How can Cuomo do this?

The short answer: State law allows him to do it.

The governor of New York has long had power to rescind parts of state law and local ordinances if they interfere with the state's ability to respond to an official disaster.

Last week, the state Legislature passed a bill temporarily expanding Cuomo's power, giving him more ability to rescind entire laws during times of crisis.

Cuomo declared a state of emergency last week, which triggered his broad powers.

What happens if a business breaks the rules?

There aren't any specifics about penalties included in Cuomo's executive order, but state law allows him to enact "procedures reasonably necessary to enforce" any of his directives during an official state disaster.

On Thursday, top Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa said the state could levy fines or even force closure of businesses if they run afoul of the order.

Jon Campbell is a New York state government reporter for the USA TODAYNetwork. He can be reached at JCAMPBELL1@Gannett.com or on Twitter at @JonCampbellGAN.