Gov. Phil Murphy said he’ll allow restaurants to reopen for outdoor dining and “non-essential” retail to allow indoor customers with 50 percent capacity, starting on June 15.
That comes as the state begins rolling back many of the restrictions meant to stop the spread of COVID-19, and the pandemic slows down across the state.
Personal care operations, such as salons and barbershops, can reopen on June 22, while gyms and health clubs will be able to reopen at some point in the coming weeks on a limited basis.
“Entering Stage 2 does not mean we flick a switch,” the governor said Monday afternoon at his daily COVID-19 press briefing at the Trenton War Memorial.
“This will continue to be a phased-in restart, based upon a careful analysis of inherent risks and the ability to safeguard public health.”
There were 509 new COVID-19 cases and 27 deaths as of Monday, bringing statewide totals to roughly 160,000 cases and 12,000 fatalities.
“This virus is among us, and saving lives is still priority number one,” Murphy said. “We will act as quickly as we can, but as safely as we must.”
The state’s health department will put out guidance this week on how businesses can resume their operations, Murphy said.
Face-coverings, hand-washing and social distancing – maintaining a 6-foot minimum distance between people – will be required.
Restaurants might have “social distancing between tables,” as well as temperature checks and paper menus, and requirements for workers to wear face-coverings and gloves, according to Murphy.
In mid-March, the governor enacted a host of sweeping restrictions, putting the state in lockdown as businesses were closed, while public gatherings and many forms of travel were banned. But restrictions have been rolled back as the number of new hospitalizations, fatalities and positive cases trend downward from their mid-April peak.
Phase one of the reopening plan mainly allowed for the resumption of outdoor activities, where social distancing could be more easily followed.
Phase three calls for rolling back even more restrictions, and most activities to be allowed with safeguards in place.
Maximum capacity for sit-down dining, health and fitness centers, and personal care would all be increased at that point, and more people would be allowed to work at their offices rather than telecommute—while bars and entertainment establishments would be operational with limited capacity.
“We’re ready to move forward because all the metrics we need to follow from our hospitals are where we need them to be and keep trending in the right way,” Murphy said. “We’re ready because the data says so.”
Murphy warned that should spikes in new cases be large enough, he might have to re-enact restrictions on businesses. “I just hope we don’t have to,” he said.
The final phase – a “new normal” – entails the resumption of life before the pandemic, albeit with a health care infrastructure prepared to handle any future outbreaks, like a widely anticipated second wave. Especially with the lack of any COVID-19 vaccine or therapeutic.
“The hope is that as the spikes happen, we can react faster, we can do better testing, contact tracing around it, and you can prevent those spikes from becoming these huge forest fires,” Dr. Edward Lifshitz, communicable disease medical director at the state’s health department, said on Monday.
Still, lawmakers and businesses have shown frustration with the rate at which the governor has rolled back restrictions, arguing that he should grant employers greater freedom to reopen while adhering to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The large-scale closures have ground commerce to a halt, cratered state tax revenue, driven up record-high levels of unemployment and created economic conditions not seen since the Great Depression.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 4:45 p.m. EST on June 1, 2020 to include relevant details surrounding the June 15 Phase I announcement, and comments from Gov. Phil Murphy and Medical Director Dr. Edward Lifshitz as they became available.