Restaurant workers are required to wear masks during the region's reopening from the coronavirus shutdown. (Getty Images)

Long Island is rolling out plans designed to help the region’s downtown shops and restaurants reopen from the coronavirus shutdown in the coming weeks.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran announced last week the Open Streets Pilot Program will allow municipalities to close down county roads to make it easier for businesses to use street space in order to increase outdoor restaurant seating capacity while adhering to social distancing mandates. And Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced permits for expanded outdoor dining areas will be automatically approved.

“We believe extra capacity of sidewalk and street seating could make a difference for survival for restaurants and businesses — and could help them actually make a profit,” Curran told reporters Thursday during a news conference in the Village of Farmingdale, which modeled the initiative.

The added space will allow restaurants to add tables and chairs six feet apart to maintain social distancing. Restaurants have been open for curbside pickup and takeout during the pandemic, but sit-down dining is not expected to resume until phase three, which may not be until the end of June.

“We want to make sure that there is nothing hindering once we can go forward once we have the approval to go forward with outdoor dining,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said of the automatic permit approvals. “This is an activity that we believe can be done safely.”

Nassau will also have a streamlined permit process that will cut red tape where no extra paperwork, approvals, or fees will be necessary. 

Curran also announced a companion program that will provide personal protective to local businesses to keep their customers and employees safe. A half a million dollars was funded by the county and the Nassau Industrial Development Agency to distribute starter kits consisting of one contact-less infrared digital thermometer, five face shields for employees, 400 three-ply masks, 100 pairs of vinyl powder-free gloves, two gallons of hand sanitizer with spray pumps, and 1,800 sanitizing wipes.

Those involved hope this PPE initiative will expand to more businesses in the future. Places interested in applying can visit boostnassau.net 

When asked about the public’s reaction to these efforts in reopening, Farmingdale Mayor Ralph Ekstrand said he expected positive results.

“We’re doing it by reservation, otherwise we’ll get 20,000 people on our Main Street,” he said.

But it appeared that some people were confused about how soon they could return to dining. Authorities reportedly shut down outdoor dining in Farmingdale after reports that restaurants started serving sit-down patrons ahead of phase three. Long Island is only in phase one, which includes construction, manufacturing, wholesale, and curbside retail. Phase two — hair salons, professional services, offices, and full retail — is expected to start next week. Phase three is at least three weeks away.

“People are really itching to get back,” Curran said. “People are ready to get back to some kind of normal. Maybe a couple jumped the gun a little bit.”

Related Story: How An Army of Contact Tracers Are Key To Long Island’s Reopening

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