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Restaurants in Rochester join lawsuit against Cuomo over COVID restrictions

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Roc City Ramen (WHAM file photo)

(WHAM) - Staff, owners, and advocates for the restaurant industry in Rochester gathered Wednesday morning to announce their intent to join a lawsuit against Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Twenty Rochester restaurants joined the lawsuit Wednesday, which blasts the state over "severe and unequal" restrictions for businesses located in orange zones.

The zones are designated for so-called "micro-clusters" where high numbers of COVID-19 cases have been appearing. The three levels of zones range in severity from yellow - the most mild - to orange to red - the most serious. Each zone's designation is determined by a number of factors, mostly relying on the COVID positivity rate for a given area.

MORE: For restaurants in orange zone, Duffy voices hope and caution

In November, Cuomo announced parts of Rochester were being placed under orange zone restrictions due to a high positivity rate above 5 percent. Among the new restrictions that went into effect was a shift to outdoor dining only with a maximum of four people per table.

Several bars and restaurants have shut down permanently in Rochester, while others have laid off significant numbers of staff and suffered heavy financial losses.

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"We need help. We're not looking for handouts," said Donald Swartz, owner of Veneto Wood Fired Pizza on East Avenue in Rochester. "We're not looking for money. We're not looking for $25 off my outdoor dining fees. We want to get our employees back to work. We want to be able to serve safely."

"In the old days, there used to be a constitution - both in the state of New York and the United States," said Corey Hogan, an attorney for restaurants joining the lawsuit. "That constitution - out of fear of the public - has been put in the drawer and ignored."

Bob Duffy, president and CEO of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, said Cuomo is looking at ways to loosen some of the restrictions on restaurants - provided the infection rate begins to decrease.

Some restaurant owners are voicing their concerns in other ways. Jodi Johnson owns The Cub Room in downtown Rochester. She says paying rent will be a challenge. She laid off almost all of her staff to make up for the loss.

"My staff is my family. Most of them have been with us since we’ve opened and now they’re out of work. And that hurts. We’re out of work and that just makes you feel powerless," said Johnson.

Hoping to get the state's attention, Johnson signed a petition voicing the restaurant industry's concerns. The petition has garnered over 3,042 signatures as of Wednesday.

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