Restaurants must close their doors to indoor diners at 10 p.m., while indoor high school sports will be off limits under an order Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday said he plans to sign in response to weeks of surges in new COVID-19 cases.
The governor maintained individual groups like from a single household, seated indoors at restaurants were not the source of new cases.
“If you’re sitting at a bar, a bartender is going back and forth, masks are never on, people continually drinking, they’re supposed to be spaced” between groups but aren’t, “it’s a very difficult environment to maintain the types of separation and space that you would like,” said Ed Lifshitz, communicable disease director.at the state health department.
Beginning on Nov. 12, interstate games and tournaments for youth indoor sports, up through high school can no longer operate. College sports will not be affected.
“[W]hile we have also seen coronavirus spread associated, specifically, with indoor youth hockey, we know that all indoor sports create a greater risk of teamwide transmission,” Murphy said on Monday. “That risk is even greater when teams from multiple states come together for tournaments or other youth-league functions.”
“It simply is not safe for teams to be crossing state lines to participate in indoor competitions where there is a serious risk of spreading the virus.”
Casinos, while they can continue operations, cannot serve food or alcohol after 10 p.m. Barside seating will be completely banned beginning Nov. 12. Banquet halls would have to close at 10 p.m.
This executive order will be accompanied by an increase in capacity and will space tables closer than 6 feet if restaurant owners install Plexiglass. That will require further guidance from the state health department.
“People are starting to let their hair down at clubs, lounges, restaurants, especially bars with restaurants, Murphy said.
Murphy announced that restaurants can open “igloo”-style structures that would make outdoor dining feasible during the colder months. The tents must be heated, limited to one group of diners at a time, and be “thoroughly cleaned and sanitized between uses,” according to the governor.
“These measures are being taken to help provide our restaurants with greater flexibility as the weather trends colder,” the governor added.
“To be clear, the last thing I want to do is to shut our economy back down and, thankfully, we are not at that point. Looking at the data, we are taking surgical steps that we hope will help mitigate the current increasing rate of spread,” Murphy continued.
“We are acting with more precision based on what we are seeing on the ground.”
Murphy and New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli have repeatedly maintained that the new outbreaks come from private indoor parties rather than from indoor dining.
“A year ago, I never heard of COVID-19. Facts change, we knew we took on more risk when you open up indoors,” the governor maintained.
Murphy prohibited indoor dining in mid-March during the first wave of virus cases and said it would be allowed to resume at 25% reduced capacity at the start of the July 4 weekend, only to pull back those plans.
It’s been allowed to operate at 25% capacity ever since Labor Day weekend, as have gyms and indoor theaters.
The state saw over 3,000 new cases on Saturday for the first time since April, and several days in a row last week of more than 2,000 new cases.
On Monday, the state logged 2,075 new positive COVID-19 cases, a total of more than 9,500 since Thursday. There were 1,537 COVID-19 hospitalizations, the first time since June 9 that the state saw over 1,500 patients from the virus.
New Jersey’s hospitals have seen more than 1,000 total COVID-19 hospitalizations for weeks in a row.
During the outbreak’s peak in April, New Jersey saw more than 4,300 new cases a day, and over 6,000 total COVID-19 hospitalizations.
“I wouldn’t say more restrictions inside your house, because that’s not feasible,” the governor said Monday morning. “We can’t enforce compliance in somebody’s home, for the most part, unless they’re having some big raucous party.”
But with restaurants staying open later, “people’s habits get sloppy,” Murphy said on Fox’s “Good Day New York.”
“When you sit at a bar, transmission rates, we’re seeing, are high,” the governor added.
The restrictions – like reduced capacity and face-covering requirements – are likely to continue until a vaccine against the virus is thoroughly rolled out.
With news that Pfizer announced Monday morning on promising results – a vaccine that was 90% effective among volunteers – the state is “plus or minus” 6 months from the virus being brought under control, Murphy said on CNBC.
There are roughly 500,000 health care workers that will be the first to get the vaccine, Persichilli said on Monday. And the department is mapping out scenarios based on the number of vaccines the state receives.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated on Nov. 9, 2020 at 3:20 p.m. EST to include Gov. Murphy’s comments on the new restrictions.