Gov. Phil Murphy is lifting the state’s stay-at-home order – in place since March 21 – and raising the limits on how many people can be at indoor and outdoor gatherings.
That comes as the state rolls back restrictions on businesses, travel and public gatherings, initially put in place in mid-March to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus across the state.
Murphy formally signed the two executive orders late Tuesday evening, shortly before midnight.
Indoor gatherings are being expanded to 25 percent of a building’s capacity, or 50 people, “whichever is lower,” Murphy said. The prior limit on indoor gatherings was set at 10.
Under the order, face coverings must be worn at indoor gatherings, with the exception of “momentarily removing their mask to place or receive an item in their mouth, including food or beverage, if done for religious purposes or for their health or safety.”
Social distancing must be practiced, with the exception of family and household members, caretakers, romantic partners and event organizers, for both indoor and outdoor gatherings.
According to the governor, indoor dining is “explicitly” left out. “I hope we’ll get to indoor dining sooner than later, but we’re not there yet,” he said Tuesday at his daily COVID-19 press briefing in Trenton.
Meanwhile, outdoor gatherings will be allowed for up to 100 people, Murphy said, while gatherings for “First Amendment-protected outdoor activities,” such as protests or outdoor religious services, can exceed that amount.
Anyone who took part in the George Floyd protests – as Murphy did over the weekend to the dismay of opponents of the state lockdown, mostly state Republicans and conservatives – should get tested, Murphy said.
“Getting tested can save lives as we more fully begin our restart and recovery,” Murphy said
“We can take these steps today because of the data and the prevailing science,” the governor added. “The data tells us that the time can be now. The science tells us that outdoor activities are far safer than indoor activities.”
Outdoor recreation will be allowed under the second order Murphy signed Tuesday, excluding amusement parks, water parks, children’s playgrounds and arcades, all “high-touch” areas, Murphy said.
Activities allowed might include boardwalk games and outdoor movie theaters. In any case, social distancing must be practiced and workers must adhere to strict sanitization guidelines.
Social clubs can reopen outdoor spaces for events, though it is not clear whether this might extend to weddings, graduation parties, anniversaries or any other such celebrations.
Outdoor gatherings can be bumped to 250 people as of June 22, and 500 people as of July 3.
Already, restaurants can reopen for outdoor dining on June 15 – as well as non-essential retail at 50 percent capacity. Hair salons can reopen on June 22, and Murphy said he would like to reopen casinos by July 4 weekend.
Casinos, Murphy said, could likely be reopened before indoor dining is allowed again.
Most of those moves comprise Stage Two of the three phases of the state’s reopening, Murphy said.
We can take these steps today because of the data and the prevailing science. The data tells us that the time can be now. The science tells us that outdoor activities are far safer than indoor activities.
— Gov. Phil Murphy
New cases, hospitalizations and fatalities have all slowed down, according to the Murphy administration. As of June 9, the state logged 375 new cases and 91 new fatalities, Murphy said, bringing the total statewide count to 164,796 cases and the death toll to 12,303.
“We cannot move through Stage 2 and into Stage 3, and beyond, unless we continue to see our numbers trending downward,” the governor said. “We cannot become complacent or irresponsible.”
That long-term transition to the third stage, where many indoor activities are allowed to resume – such as casinos, indoor dining and bars, malls and concerts – depends on a widely resilient and prepared health care infrastructure.
A second wave of COVID-19 is widely expected, especially now with the resurgence of public demonstrations across the nation in response to police brutality and misconduct.
On the one hand, the state needs “emergency stuff like bed capacity, [personal protective equipment], ventilators, health care workers,” Murphy said. More recently, that means expanded testing, and a statewide contact tracing plan to track down and isolate potential new cases of COVID-19 in real time, and prevent outbreaks.
“Folks have to have the confidence we can surround this thing if it pops up again, that should be the game-changer – not whether it will pop up again, but when it pops up, if we can surround it.”
Editor’s note: This developing story was updated at 2:09 p.m. EST on June 9, 2020 to include additional information and comments from Gov. Phil Murphy. This story was updated at 8:42 a.m. EST on June 10, 2020 to reflect Murphy’s signing of two executive orders and to include details from those directives.