On May 3, Gov. Phil Murphy rolled out the “most aggressive steps taken to reopen to date,” and yet businesses and public gatherings still ultimately have a fair amount of COVID-19 restrictions, he noted.
“What’s left is a fair amount,” the governor said during Monday’s daily COVID-19 press conference. “Some of it’s in the fed’s hands and some of it is in our hands. The 6-foot distance is still very much out there, we do have capacity restrictions on the inside, at a catered event, at large-seated venues.”
The 6-foot social distancing requirement could place considerable strain on restaurants, retail and other operations with smaller square-footage, something Murphy was pressed on by several reporters during his announcement.
“The two steps that we could take that would give them some amount of oxygen … was to allow them bar seating and lift capacities completely, while keeping the 6-foot distance,” Murphy said of restaurants.
This latest round of reopening measures will come in two stages: One rolling out this Friday and the second on May 19. Outdoor restrictions were initially set to be loosened on May 10.
Outdoor gathering limits increase from 200 to 500 people May 7, and then switch to the social distancing and mask-usage requirement. Barside seating and self-service buffets will be allowed as of this Friday, but food and drink can only be consumed while seated. Tables can be closer than 6 feet if there’s a type of barrier between them.
Restaurant capacity restrictions are scrapped in place of the social distancing and face covering requirements, though Murphy has maintained that the federal Centers for Disease Control might lessen the definition for social distancing.
Large outdoor venues – those with at least 1,000 seats – can increase their capacity from 30% to 50% this Friday, and indoor venues from 20% to 30% on May 19. Carnivals and fairs can operate at 50% starting this Friday. Indoor catered events such as proms and weddings will be capped at the lesser of 50% or 250 people starting this Friday.
Private indoor gatherings are capped at 50 people as of May 19, up from the current limit of 25 people.
Conferences overseen by businesses – conferences, expos, or trade shows – are capped at 250 people. But, Murphy noted, that’s 250 per room, granting event organizers a great deal of flexibility.
“It’s 250 people per room, that’s an important point,” the governor said, highlighting Atlantic City hotels with “massive floor space” and fixed-seating venues with loosening capacity restrictions, such as Harrah’s and Ocean Casino Resort.
“This means that the events that we all associate with summer, from fireworks displays to parades to the State Fair, can all go forward, as long as attendees are keeping 6 feet of distance,” the governor said. “And should the [Centers for Disease Control] revise its 6-foot distancing guidance, we will revise our requirement accordingly.