Gov. Phil Murphy announced Feb. 3 he will sign an executive order loosening restrictions on indoor businesses like restaurants, gyms, nail and hair salons.
Under the order, beginning at 6 a.m. on Feb. 5 those businesses can expand their indoor footprint from 25% capacity to 35% capacity. Restaurants will be able to offer indoor dining past 10 p.m. Bar and restaurant owners, as well as Republican lawmakers, have argued that was vital for the upcoming Super Bowl, which can often drag past that time.
Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-25th District and Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-13th District, both praised the measure. They previously started a petition asking the governor to lift indoor dining restrictions, at least temporarily, for the Super Bowl.
“To tell restaurants they had to send people home at 10:00 before the game was over was only going to push people to house parties where they wouldn’t be in an atmosphere where there were sanitation protocols and social distancing,” Bucco said in a Wednesday statement.
But Murphy denied that the decision had anything to do with the Super Bowl, and instead urged New Jerseyans to refrain from large indoor gatherings this Sunday.
He noted that the June 15 resumption of outdoor dining did not align with any special occasions. It did in fact come a week before Father’s Day.
“We are able to take steps forward today because of the millions of you who have taken responsibility for ending this pandemic to heart – through constant social distancing, wearing your face masks, and exercising common sense,” the governor said during his daily COVID-19 press briefing on Wednesday.
Those requirements will still be in effect, the governor added. Metrics such as daily cases, total hospitalizations, and the positivity rate among tests have all moved in a direction that Murphy said justified the decision.
Barside seating is still prohibited, Murphy said, as it “creates the danger of close and prolonged proximity between patrons, bartenders, and servers.”
And local governments still have the power to ban indoor dining after 8 p.m.
“This approach gives local officials the ability to respond to unique situations where they are noticing non-compliance,” the governor said.
As of that day, the state logged 2,021 additional COVID-19 positive tests and 52 new fatalities. There are 2,986 total COVID-19 patients in the state’s 71 acute-care hospitals, which is 23% from a Dec. 22 second wave hospitalization peak, and much lower than the more than 8,000 patients in the hospital during the first wave last spring.
Under the order, indoor performance venues such as theaters and performing art centers can expand their capacity to 35% or 150 people, whichever is lower.
That applies to indoor religious ceremonies and services, weddings, political activities and memorial services and funerals.
“I feel confident in signing this order because of the recent trends in our hospitals and our rate of transmission,” the governor added. “We believe that we can make this expansion without leading to undue further stress on our health care system.”
Murphy did not indicate whether the U.K and South Africa strains would affect the state’s reopening timeline but assured that the state was monitoring the spread of those strains.
“Never once have we had to reduce capacity” for indoor dining, the governor said.
As of Wednesday, there were 11 confirmed cases of the U.K. variant in New Jersey.
Editor’s note: This article was updated on Feb. 3, 2021 at 12:17 p.m. to provide details and clarity.e