Gov. Phil Murphy said he is lifting capacity at indoor dining and other inside businesses such as salons, gyms, casinos and amusement sites from 35% to 50% effective March 19. Barside seating is still prohibited, Murphy said.
In addition, the limit on private gatherings is being increased from 10 people to 25 people indoors, and to 50 people outdoors.
The limits do not apply to religious services and ceremonies, and political events, according to the governor.
With warmer weather, and the difficulty the virus has in spreading to new hosts in outside settings, Murphy urged people to gather outdoors whenever possible.
These make New Jersey the latest in a number of states loosening COVID-19 restrictions, which have included Texas and Mississippi, Maryland and Connecticut.
Those two latter states are increasing indoor capacity to 100%. New York is increasing indoor capacity to 75% for the entire state and keeping it at 35% in New York City.
“We believe that when all factors are weighed, we can make this expansion without leading to undue further stress” on health care in the state, Murphy said at a daily press briefing on March 10.
But, he maintained, “we don’t want to lurch out there and have to go back,” hence a more “incremental” reopening.
“Unlike some states where governors are prioritizing politics over public health – Texas and Mississippi come immediately to mind – our mask mandate remains in effect and will continue to be enforced,” the governor added.
The state has slowly coasted down from a wintery second wave that peaked in mid-January. But the onset of several highly infectious variants has begun to drive up the spread of the virus, and daily cases.
As of March 10, the state logged 145 variants, according to New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. That includes the first instance of a strain first detected in South Africa, known as the 501.V2 variant. There are two cases of a variant first detected in Brazil, called the P1 variant, and
On March 10, the state reported another 3,047 positive cases, 56 confirmed fatalities and a transmission rate of 1.04. It hit above 1 earlier this week, and anything above that means that the virus is spreading.
The state logged 1,961 COVID-19 patients- up from 1,895 the day before, but still far down from the level of hospitalizations logged in January.
“We feel confident in these steps given the data that we have been seeing over the past five weeks, since the last time we expanded the indoor reality,” the governor added. “For example, on Feb. 5th, when our restaurant capacity last changed, our hospitals were treating just under 2,900 patients. That number has come down by 1,000 and been consistent since then.”
The state has, like much of the nation, struggled to roll out the COVID-19 vaccine to its residents. Mass inoculations are vital to bringing down the spread of the virus and continuing a rollback of restrictions.
Murphy has assured that the supply of vaccines will explode across April and May.
State health officials are aiming to have 4.7 million adults vaccinated by June, and as of March 10 the state administered nearly 1.8 million first vaccine doses and nearly 900,000-second doses.
It is not immediately clear how many of those doses are the J&J vaccine, but Murphy and other health officials contend that the number will be limited for most of March.