Gov. Phil Murphy said on April 26 that he will sign an order lifting capacity restrictions for indoor catered events, outdoor venues and public gatherings ahead of the summer season.
The orders go into effect on May 10 and mark an “incremental” reopening that the governor has promised as the state transitions into the warmer summer months, which allow for outdoor gatherings where the virus is less contagious, and as the state ramps up its vaccine efforts and gradually gets this latest wave of the COVID-19 pandemic under control.
As of April 26, the state fully vaccinated more than 2.8 million adults; the goal is 4.7 million adults by June 30.
“With the resumption of the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine following a rigorous scientific review of a rare blood clot, we once again have all three tools back in our toolbox. So, our confidence levels were restored by that announcement,” the governor said.
Hospitalizations are down 25% from April 7, Murphy said. And the state logged less than 2,000 cases for the second day in a row for the first time in over a month. The rate of transmission has consistently stayed below 1 for weeks, meaning the virus is not spreading.
“Because of everything you are doing – whether it is continuing to wear your masks and social distancing or getting vaccinated – you are helping us crush these curves yet again,” the governor added. “And because of that, we are pleased to be able to take more steps forward in our reopening process.”
Many business owners and local officials along the Jersey Shore expect these factors will lead to an explosion in summer tourists stemming from pent-up demand after months of closures and isolation over the wintery second wave.
Under the orders Murphy is signing, the limits for outdoor gatherings will be expanded from 200 people to 500 people.
A Memorial Day parade can go forward as planned as long as attendees are masked and practicing social distancing, Murphy said. But an event at the end of the parade, like a band stand, would be subject to that 500-person limit.
Restrictions for outdoor venues will be lowered. Currently, venues with a seating capacity of at least 2,500 people are limited to 30% capacity. Under this order, the threshold will be raised to a 50% capacity limit for venues with at least 1,000 people.
And so that means that, for example, the 17,500-seat PNC Bank Arts Center, the roughly 52,400-seat SHI Stadium at Rutgers University and the 82,500-seat MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford would be limited to half their capacity, assuming they can enforce 6-foot social distancing and mask requirements.
The order Murphy is signing will not affect indoor venues, which are limited to 15% capacity.
Carnivals and county and state fairs – like the New Jersey State Fair in Sussex County – will be able to operate at 50% capacity.
[I]f the numbers keep going in the right direction [and people get the vaccine] our capacities will continue to open up. Sure as we’re sitting here.
– Gov. Phil Murphy
“We are doing this both because we are expecting the downward trend to continue over the next two weeks, and because we want to give businesses the ability to plan ahead and fully prepare,” Murphy added. “To be sure, looking at the trend in our numbers over the past weeks, we fully expect to continue our streak of announcing expansions and sticking to them.”
He continued that “if the numbers keep going in the right direction” and people get the vaccine, “our capacities will continue to open up. Sure as we’re sitting here.”
Indoor catered events – weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, sweet 16s, graduation parties, proms and others – will be limited to 50% or 250 people, whichever is lower. And this time, the dance floors will be allowed to reopen, but only for “closed and closely supervised events.”
Restrictions on masks and social distancing will be enforced, Murphy said. Dance floors at bars and nightclubs are closed “as we know they are less controlled and more hospitable for this virus.”
“You’re only a senior in high school once. You’re only getting married – perhaps not once [sic]. These are big deal events,” the governor said.
“We’re asking these organizations – catering halls and other events that are being catered – we believe they have a higher ability to police what’s going on than just opening it up more broadly to everybody.”
And indoor dining restrictions, as well as those at other indoor businesses such as entertainment, casinos and retail, will remain at 50%.
But outdoor dining, Murphy pointed out, is not subject to capacity restrictions beyond the 6-foot social distancing, which Murphy said the state is “prepared to relax” pending more review by the federal Centers for Disease Control.
“[W]hen it comes to outdoor venues, we are aware that the [Center for Disease Control] is currently reviewing its outdoor guidelines, more generally, and we will be prepared to relax the 6-foot distancing requirement outdoors accordingly should the CDC move in that direction.”
He cautioned that “if you’re outside and you cannot socially distance, you need to wear a mask.”
“I continue to urge everyone to engage in activities outside wherever possible, particularly as the weather warms up,” the governor said. “We know that this virus is much less dangerous outdoors than indoors.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 2:29 p.m. EST on April 26, 2021 to include additional remarks from Gov. Phil Murphy.