Gov. Phil Murphy is expanding the capacity for outdoor gatherings, and for outdoor and indoor venues such as concerts and entertainment.
The move comes as the state sees a simultaneous explosion in the availability of COVID-19 vaccine doses and eligibility to get a shot, and in new cases and total hospitalizations stemming from several highly contagious variants of the virus.
Murphy indicated a week ago that he was pausing any reopenings – after an expansion of indoor dining and other indoor businesses from 35% to 50% – because of the COVID-19 variant surge, driven by a mutation first detected in the United Kingdom.
As of March 29, the state logged 3,834, compared to roughly a month ago when the state had logged as low as below 2,000 new daily cases. Hospitalizations have once again spiked above 2,000 for the first time since the second wave in February. They were 2,225 as of Monday, the highest in over a month.
Murphy defended the reopenings though, pointing out that he was otherwise keeping indoor restrictions as is.
“They’re doing an exceptional job and going to 20% does not anywhere come close to having people need to be within six feet of each other,” the governor said.
Under the order Murphy is signing, the limit is being raised on outdoor gatherings from 25 people to 200 people as of Friday morning.
Gathering sizes for weddings, funerals and memorial services, religious services and political activities are uncapped when held outdoors.
“As the weather gets warmer, we are urging everyone to engage in social activities outside whenever possible,” Murphy said at a daily COVID-19 press briefing in Trenton on Monday, March 29. “Any type of larger gathering is safer for everyone if it can be held outside.”
Murphy is also loosening the definition for what constitutes a “large venue,” meaning that fewer establishments will be bound by the more stringent COVID-19 capacity restrictions. Starting Friday, venues with 2,500 people can open to 20% capacity indoors and 30% outdoors – up from 10% and 15% respectively.
“In both cases, all public health protocols must be observed by all participants and spectators – especially for the wearing of facemasks by all spectators indoors,” the governor cautioned.
“And over the last month, since we reopened large venues to the public, we have seen that they have the enforcement capacity to strictly enforce these protocols.”