Gov. Phil Murphy said that New Jersey is “getting close” to an announcement on a resumption of indoor dining and reopening bars, as the state hits its slowest spread of COVID-19 in months.
“We’re getting close,” the governor said at an unrelated Aug. 28 news conference in Metuchen. “With positivity rates around 2 percent or lower, rates of transmission that have now come down meaningfully below 1. And they’re sustained. This isn’t just one good day. They’re sustained. We’re getting very close to be able to take that step.”
Gyms and eateries were among the first businesses ordered to close as the virus began to spread across the state in early March. As the outbreaks ebbed, Murphy allowed outdoor dining to resume on June 15, with gyms to follow on Sept. 1 at 25 percent capacity and with face covering requirements.
While some restaurants have been able to stay afloat through a combination of takeout, delivery and outdoor dining, the arrival of colder weather could eliminate the latter option.
Indoor service was initially set to resume on July 2, at 25 percent capacity with face coverings and sanitization requirements. But the governor pulled the plug on June 29, saying that indoor dining had contributed to surges of the virus then evident across the country.
The move was another blow to an industry that had already been staggered by pandemic-related restrictions. “Many restaurant owners have not generated the revenue to pay for these start-up expenses over the past 15 weeks, and therefore, dug deep into their own personal pockets to restart their business,” the New Jersey Business Coalition said in a June 30 statement. The coalition is a group of chambers of commerce and trade group, including the New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association.
“Respectfully, we ask: Who is going to reimburse these lost costs? Food, now at premium prices, has a very short shelf life,” the statement continues. “Additionally, how many times will restaurant owners be asked to train up a workforce only to send them back to unemployment?”
On Thursday, the state Legislature sent the governor a bill that would set up a $30 million fund, managed by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, to compensate restaurant owners for the financial hit they took when he reversed course on indoor dining.