Bob Castaldi outside the Suffolk Theater on Main Street lim July 2017. File photo: Denise Civiletti

Restrictions are being eased somewhat on the size of social gatherings in New York beginning later this month and event, arts and entertainment venues can reopen with limited crowds as of April 2, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced this afternoon.

Beginning March 22, outdoor residential gatherings will be expanded to 25 people. Indoor limits will remain the same at 10 people. Non-residential social gatherings will be expanded to 100 people indoors and 200 people outdoors.

Arts and entertainment can reopen at 33% capacity with a maximum of 100 people indoors and 200 people outdoors, the governor announced. If all attendees present proof of negative test prior to entry, capacity can increase up to 150 people indoors and up to 500 people outdoors under the revised guidance. Social distancing and face coverings will be required for all attendees.

Bob Castaldi, owner of the Suffolk Theater on Main Street, said the new rules will not help him reopen.

“It doesn’t do anything for us,” Castaldi said in an interview this afternoon. He said he can’t operate the theater with one-third of his staff, or cut operating expenses by two-thirds. “It just doesn’t work that way,” he said.

“We need to be at 100% to reopen,” Castaldi said. Even then, he said, he’s not sure how it will work. Performers have tours. If he could open the doors of the Suffolk Theater tomorrow, he won’t necessarily be able to get performers on his stage right away.

“We’ll just have to see,” Castaldi said.

The art-deco movie theater, which Castaldi and his wife Diane refurbished and reopened on March 2, 2013 as a performing arts venue, was shut down by COVID last spring.

Castaldi is frustrated and unhappy.

“I have friends in Florida,” he said today. “Everything is clicking along at a pretty good clip. Other states are reopening. Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease,” he said.

“Let business people be business people. Let people be free,” Castaldi said. He believes government should have a much more limited role, he said.

Cuomo today said he believes other states are “going too far too fast.”

The governors of the states of Texas and Mississippi signed executive orders yesterday allowing all businesses to reopen at full capacity. They also lifted mask mandates.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that the spread of the more-contagious U.K. variant is continuing and it is still expected to be the predominant strain of the coronavirus in the U.S. by the end of this month. As a result, another surge is almost inevitable, officials say.

CDC director Rochelle Walensky said Monday she was “deeply concerned” that a recent steady decline in cases and daily deaths had seemed to plateau.

“Please hear me clearly: At this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained,” Walensky said at a news briefing Monday.

“These variants are a very real threat to our people and our progress,” she said. “Now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know can stop the spread of Covid-19 in our communities, not when we are so close.”

Cuomo today said there is an “ever-present” danger. “The virus mutates all the time. We can’t relax too soon.” He said.

“I get it,” Cuomo said. “COVID fatigue. Everybody wants all restrictions gone. Yes, but you also have to be smart about reopening.”

The U.S. is ramping up its efforts to get the population vaccinated against the virus as quickly as vaccine doses can be produced and delivered. President Joseph Biden said yesterday the U.S. will have enough doses by the end of May to vaccinate “every adult American.”

Testing positivity rates in New York continue to decline in most places, as do statewide hospitalizations and deaths.

The Long Island region has the highest positivity rate in the state, at 4.2% yesterday. Suffolk’s positivity rate was 4.1%. Those numbers are much improved compared to what they were during the holiday surge in the weeks after Christmas, But from June through the end of October, positivity rates in Suffolk were consistently under 2%.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.