As restaurants and salons open to 75% capacity, urgency for more vaccinations rises


CASTLE HILL, the Bronx — On Friday, New York City restaurants, bars, and salons were allowed to be open at 75% capacity indoors.  

It’s the first time in more than a year that they’ve been allowed to accommodate that volume of customers. It’s part of a larger reopening effort in the tri-state area and increasing vaccinations is a key part of that effort.

On Friday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio joined Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez at a mobile vaccination center in the Bronx, but their efforts drew some criticism for not being wide=ranging enough.

Suneta Naraine, the owner of Melanie’s Roti Grill Restaurant and Bar on Castle Hill Avenue, represents some of the main issues related to the region’s reopening.

Regarding being able to finally have her restaurant at 75% capacity, Naraine said she’s very pleased.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “You can start to pay bills with that. It’s a sense of normalcy.”

However, she added, she’s well and healthy but because she can’t find extra staff, she doesn’t feel she has even 20 minutes to go and get a vaccination.

Situations like hers are why a bus that’s been converted into a mobile vaccination site was set up in her neighborhood on Friday.

It was surrounded by workers from the city’s Test and Trace Corps, who approached passerby after passerby, asking them if they wanted to get vaccinated. An unscientific count showed that takers were fairly frequent.

The biggest challenge as the city and the region continue to open up is getting more people to go ahead and get vaccinated. According to city and state figures, two of every three people in New York City are not fully vaccinated. It’s the reason why the city had deployed the mobile vaccination lab. 

However, City Council Health Committee Chair Mark Levine had a criticism of the effort.

“We need a fleet of mobile vaccination vans,” Levine said. “This is a start, [but] it’s got to go much bigger.”

He said that as the city opens up more, it can’t do so with maximum safety levels without providing more vaccinations right where people are.

“If we don’t get more farther along,” Levine said, “we’re going to continue to have outbreaks [in] localized concentrations.  The ultimate scenario is new variants emerging.”

In response, both the mayor and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez said that the city and the federal government are doing a lot, and intend to do more projects like the mobile vaccination center.

“It’s just a small piece of a larger strategy of grass roots health care,” Ocasio-Cortez said at a news conference after touring the mobile site.

Mayor de Blasio said that it’s just the beginning. 

“I’ll tease,” he said, referring to a future announcement. “Tune in on Monday.  There’s a lot more coming.”   

“We’re gonna go out to the people,” the mayor continued, “we’re gonna work with community leaders, and we’re gonna make it a little more fun, we’re gonna offer a few more incentives.  Stay tuned.”

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