Labor Day weekend was the first time in six months that New Jersey restaurants could offer indoor dining, albeit with intense sanitization, face covering requirements, and at 25 percent capacity.
Following the restart, Gov. Phil Murphy and the head of the state’s restaurant trade group said they were largely impressed with how indoor dining fared, but the governor warned that the state will know in 10 days if the practice has led to a rebound in cases.
“Obviously it’s helpful,” New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association President and Chief Executive Officer Marilou Halvorsen said during a Tuesday morning press conference with other business groups on the governor’s 2021 budget proposal. “People seemed very receptive. They were happy.”
Murphy meanwhile indicated at a morning appearance on CNN that “the feedback has been very good” with “the early moments of indoor dining.”
New Jersey’s transmission rate – or how quickly the virus spreads – continued to creep up this past week. Anything above 1 means that the virus is spreading, and the rate has stayed above that metric for days now.
Still, even if there was a rebound, Halvorson on Tuesday lambasted what she said was a habit of using “restaurants as a scapegoat.”
“I just hope that if the number goes up, it’s not just automatically ‘let’s shut down restaurants’,” she said.
But the governor maintained that an uptick would not necessarily mean another closure of indoor dining, like in late June when he sacked plans to allow the practice to resume amid a nationwide rebound of COVID-19.
“A combination of house parties, folks at that point who were not yet obeying the quarantine from other high-infection states. At this point, we don’t see any hotspots,” he said. “We don’t see a specific reason” to shut down indoor dining.
The positivity among new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations from the virus are both in comfortable ranges, the governor added.
And hopefully, Murphy said, the state has “put the policies in place that will keep it in a box.”
Luckily, the weather this weekend was “very good,” Murphy said.
That’s meant restaurants that can, offered outdoor dining, where the ability of COVID-19 to spread to new hosts is far weaker.
“A lot of people are still outside. That won’t be the case forever,” the governor said.
Halvorsen warned on Tuesday that many smaller restaurants, especially those in urban settings, did not have that option in the first place. And once colder weather renders many outdoor seating arrangements useless, 25 percent will not be nearly enough to keep these businesses afloat.
“The problem is for the small restaurants in cities that don’t have outdoor dining, they just didn’t open,” she said. “They really need to go to 50 percent, sooner than later.”