Dr. Qanta Ahmed, a pulmonologist who has been treating COVID-19 patients at a New York hospital, argued on Wednesday that restaurants are safe when “proper protocols” are in place and should reopen in New York City after being closed for indoor dining for weeks.
Ahmed told “Fox & Friends” that those protocols include infection control, distancing and having a reduced capacity, acknowledging that she thinks “25% is probably far too stringent.”
Ahmed made the case as New York City restaurants are preparing to reopen for indoor dining following Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement Friday that it will be allowed to resume on Feb. 14 at 25% capacity.
The directive for restaurants to start preparing for the Feb. 14 date comes after Cuomo previously ordered the Big Apple’s thousands of eateries to stop serving customers indoors in December, even as the state released contract-tracing data which showed bars and restaurants accounted for just 1.43% of COVID-19 cases in the three months ending in November.
Overall, New York City’s coronavirus test positivity rate is declining, Cuomo said.
Ahmed noted some restaurants are safeguarding their environments “even to a higher degree than medical settings.”
“They’re using HEPA filters and they’re using UV lights so that can be very safe,” she explained.
She also pointed to the data from New York State, noting that transmission inside restaurants is “less than transmission in higher education” and “much less than transmission inside healthcare settings where we see people with infections.”
Ahmed also pointed out that more than 70% of transmission “happens inside our households where we go from family to family without capacity limits, without infection control practices, in crowded, poorly ventilated homes.”
“That’s driving the pandemic,” she stressed.
The restaurant industry is a vital part of New York City’s economy.
“New York City’s restaurant industry had 23,650 establishments in 2019, provided 317,800 jobs, paid $10.7 billion in total wages citywide, and made nearly $27 billion in taxable sales,” the state comptroller’s office wrote in a report issued in September last year.
Eater New York reported in December that “restaurants across the city continue to close en masse.”
“At least 1,000 have closed since March due to the financial downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the article noted, pointing out that among them are “neighborhood favorites.”
In December, the National Restaurant Association shared findings of a recent survey, which revealed 17% of restaurants, or more than 110,000 establishments, are closed permanently or long-term.
The survey also found “the vast majority of permanently closed restaurants were well-established businesses, and fixtures in their communities.”
Host Brian Kilmeade asked Ahmed what her message was to people who say following the science meant they should skip going to restaurants.
“I would say the converse,” she said. “If you are careful, if you are choosing a restaurant which is observing all these protocols, which are enforced by New York State, by the State Liquor Authority, by all kinds of enforcement agencies and you are not going when you are feeling sick, you will be safe, particularly if there’s very good ventilation.”
“We would encourage New York State to look at restaurants,” she added, noting that “they are an essential part of the GDP [gross domestic product].”
“These jobs are very, very important to make New York an international destination,” Ahmed continued. “It is very important to support this industry,, and that is a healthy, scientific-based recommendation.”
Fox News’ Greg Norman contributed to this report.