In New Jersey, face coverings will still be required indoors for the foreseeable future even if you are vaccinated. Nonetheless, on Wednesday the state is embarking on what Gov. Phil Murphy has described as the “most aggressive” reopening measures taken during the pandemic thus far.
Capacity restrictions are being scrapped entirely and replaced with a 6-foot social distancing requirement for businesses including restaurants, personal service establishments, indoor and outdoor amusement parks, churches, retail stores and gyms.
The state is ending percentage-based capacity limits. Restaurants must enforce 6-foot social distancing or install barriers between tables closer than 6 feet. Tables are not limited to eight people.
Outdoor gathering limits are being lifted, too, while the indoor gathering limit is being increased from 25 to 50 people.
Indoor venues with at least 1,000 fixed seats are limited to 50% capacity, as long as ticketed groups remain at least 6 feet apart. And the state is increasing indoor capacity at catered events, conferences, expos and trade shows to 250 people per room.
But, Murphy noted, the per room limit grants event organizers a great deal of flexibility. “It’s 250 people per room, that’s an important point,” the governor said earlier this month, highlighting Atlantic City hotels with “massive floor space” and fixed-seating venues with loosening capacity restrictions, such as Harrah’s and Ocean Casino Resort.
The 6-foot requirement could ultimately keep restaurants with smaller square footage from truly reaching full capacity. Murphy said he is banking on the federal Centers for Disease Control to lower the social distancing guidelines from 6 to 3 feet, which would prompt him to loosen the restrictions for New Jersey, as well.
“If you speak to a restaurateur … that’s the game-changer,” Murphy said during a May 17 daily COVID-19 press briefing.
Beginning Wednesday, both New York and Connecticut are loosening indoor face covering restrictions for those who are fully vaccinated, but New Jersey is not following suit.
Many large chains like Starbucks, Walmart, Costco, Target and Trader Joe’s are lifting mask mandates for fully vaccinated customers, but only with the thumbs up from local governments.
“We’re just not there yet,” the governor added on May 17. And, he continued, businesses would be put in an “unfair” predicament if they were tasked with policing which customers got the vaccine and as a result did not have to wear a mask, versus which patrons need to still wear a face covering.
Over the weekend, Murphy’s office sent out a statement from the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents 52,000 such workers in grocery stores and other retail outlets, supporting the governor’s decision to keep the indoor mask mandate in effect, and condemning the CDC’s announcement.
Regardless, indoor mask requirements could very well be lifted in a matter of weeks if numbers like daily cases, hospitalizations, the rate of transmission and the positivity rate among tests all improve, Murphy said.
Those numbers have all hit record-lows not seen since before the onset of the pandemic’s second wave last fall. And the state has fully vaccinated more than 3.7 million people who live, work or study in New Jersey, part of the goal to fully vaccinate 4.7 million adults by the end of June. Kids between the ages of 12 and 15 can now also get vaccinated.