Gov. Phil Murphy promised further relaxations on COVID-19 business restrictions as the state breaks past 3 million adults that have been fully vaccinated.
“On Monday you should expect to hear from us on the continued reopening of the state,” the governor said Friday morning at a New Jersey Transit press conference in Lyndhurst.
Murphy announced some of the state’s first reopenings this week, related to outdoor activities and gatherings as well as expanded capacity for indoor catered events, all of which go into effect on May 10. But New York and Connecticut are pushing ahead with lifting more of their indoor dining restrictions, despite no word from Murphy.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city would “fully reopen” starting July 1.
On April 28, Murphy suggested that New Jersey would begin to see an “accelerated reopening” as the state ramps up its vaccine efforts and key metrics like daily cases and hospitalizations are brought under control.
All those numbers have been heading in the right direction, according to the governor.
As of April 30, the state fully vaccinated more than 3 million adults, out of 6.9 million total shots in arms. The goal is to fully vaccinate 4.7 million adults by June 30, which state health officials argue is essential to build herd immunity and further roll back restrictions in place to halt the spread of the virus.
On April 30 the state reported 1,686 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 26 fatalities. There were 1,564 COVID-19 patients, meaning the state reached below 1,600 hospitalizations for the first time since November. And the statewide positivity rate among COVID-19 tests dropped to 4.96%, falling below 5% for the first time since October.
“That number is coming down, and it’s coming down meaningfully,” Murphy said in Lyndhurst, just hours before he and First Lady Tammy Murphy are slated to get their second COVID-19 shots at the vaccine mega-center in Atlantic City.
Meanwhile, the statewide transmission rate – or how fast the virus spreads – dropped to 0.63 from 0.72 the day before, reaching its new low point during the pandemic. Anything above 1 means that the virus is spreading to at least one other person.
“We’re not out of the woods, but the numbers are getting better,” the governor continued. “There’s just no two ways about it, thank God.”
Local business executives and labor and public officials in Atlantic City put pressure on Gov. Phil Murphy during an April 30 morning press conference, held on the city’s boardwalk between Boardwalk Hall and the beach, to roll-back restrictions on conventions, trade show and events, which make up a sizable chunk of the region’s economy.
They feel the governor needs to prioritize reopening those segments of the economy, as he considers relaxing more COVID-19 restrictions.
Atlantic City has two main event spaces: the 500,000 square-foot Atlantic City Convention Center and Boardwalk Hall, which are both owned by the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and operated by Meet AC. Neither offered a response when reached for comment. Many casinos in the city boast ample floor space for events and entertainment.
The closure of indoor events and the limitations on attendees, now set to 250, has been devastating for the events industry, according to many executives. In-person closures and restrictions have slammed the casino industry and made the city’s unemployment among the highest in the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s now more important than ever that we ease indoor capacity restrictions to allow our properties to resume indoor meetings and conferences,” the Casino Association of New Jersey – the trade group for the state’s nine casinos – said in a written statement. “We are prepared and ready to safely bring back conventions and meetings with the same rigorous health and safety protocols we have been employing since our reopening last July.”
“[C]onventions and trade shows account for $1.9 billion in revenue for Atlantic City, and the Convention Center, hotels and local businesses surrounding the area greatly depend on this revenue to survive,” reads an April 29 statement from local Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, a Democrat.
He joined fellow district mate Assemblyman John Armato, a Democrat, and Atlantic County Commissioner Caren Fitzpatrick on Friday morning, along with several labor organizations whose members work events in the city.
“I know how important meetings, conventions, and trade shows are to the economic livelihood of Atlantic City and the surrounding area,” Fitzpatrick said. “I believe it is crucial to champion the unique amenities Atlantic City has to offer and work to ensure we are not left out of reopening plans”
Reopenings so far have focused on the outdoors: festivals and fairs, outdoor venues and outside gatherings can all increase their maximum size as of May 10. Murphy has promised future reopenings but has not indicated what they will be.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled a much faster reopening timeline for indoor businesses throughout May, but New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city will fully lift COVID-19 restrictions by the July Fourth weekend.
New York City can begin offering bar seating May 3, Cuomo announced, but that’s still banned in New Jersey.
Larry Sieg, who heads Meet AC, said in a previous interview that for now, the focus is primarily on outdoor summer events like sports competitions. Indoor events typically “slow down “ during a non-COVID summer, and the big money makers that can draw in tens of thousands of attendees are scheduled between late fall and early spring,” he told NJBIZ.
Lawmakers pressed Murphy in September for him to roll back restrictions as the summer season began to wind down.
“Atlantic City cannot afford to sit empty through the winter season and certainly cannot afford the long term impacts of not being able to schedule conventions and trade shows for upcoming or future dates,” the letter reads. And, they pressed him again this March, in a letter that was also addressed to both Meet AC and the CRDA.
Other hotels and casinos play host to events and entertainment, and worry about how they would fare in the months ahead even with expanded outdoor amenities.
“[W]ith indoor dining capacities and bar restrictions at the current levels, it will be very difficult to accommodate demand and optimize guest experience,” reads a prepared statement from Joe Lupo, president of Hard Rock in Atlantic City.
“Additionally, the current 250-person limit on entertainment, meetings and conventions significantly hinders the ability for business in Atlantic City to fully rebound to our fullest potential,” he added.
The New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark is the latest university in the state to require its students to get the COVID-19 vaccine before they can return to campus.
Students, faculty and staff will be required to get the vaccine before the start of the Fall 2021 semester, NJIT announced in an April 28 statement.
“This decision was made with extensive community feedback and is based upon the recent and continuing expansion of vaccine availability and the scientifically demonstrated efficacy and safety of the vaccines that are available,” said NJIT President Joel Bloom.
The COVID-19 vaccine will be essential for gaining access “to an active campus community that will be functioning at full capacity in classrooms, labs, residence halls, and throughout campus,” Bloom continued.
The Murphy administration is aiming to fully vaccinate 4.7 million adults by June 30, and the state is nearing 3 million people fully vaccinated and 7 million total shots in arms. Most of the delivered shots are from the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, and a small percentage from the one-shot Johnson & Johnson inoculation.
State health officials contend that threshold is key to building widespread herd immunity that could curtail the spread of the virus, and in turn, lead to lifting COVID-19 business restrictions en masse.
But interest in getting the vaccine has lagged recently, despite increasingly abundant dosage supply, and state officials are ramping up their efforts to reach that remaining 1.7 million New Jerseyans.
Gov. Phil Murphy suggested earlier this week that the state can expect an “accelerated reopening” as New Jersey ramps up its COVID-19 vaccine efforts and key metrics like daily cases and hospitalizations are brought under control. The latest reopening moves came on April 26, when the governor expanded capacity for outdoor gatherings and outdoor venues like concert halls. Those take effect on May 10.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled a much faster reopening timeline for indoor businesses throughout May, but New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city will fully lift COVID-19 restrictions by the July Fourth weekend.
New York City can begin offering bar seating May 3, Cuomo announced, but that’s still banned in New Jersey.
“There’s just no other way to put it. We’ll have more news on that on Monday,” the governor said during a COVID-19 press conference on April 28.
Gov. Phil Murphy hinted throughout the day on April 28 that the state can expect an “accelerated reopening” as New Jersey ramps up its COVID-19 vaccine efforts and key metrics like daily cases and hospitalizations are brought under control. However, that likely won’t lead to a change in the state’s mask policies.
“If the progress continues on the health front, we will continue to accelerate the reopening of the state, the governor said during an April 28 evening appearance on WNYC’s “Ask Governor Murphy.”
The latest reopening moves came on April 26, when the governor expanded capacity for outdoor gatherings and outdoor venues like concert halls. Those take effect on May 10.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo rolled out a more aggressive reopening schedule for indoor businesses, which goes into effect at the start of next month. New York City can begin offering bar seating May 3, Cuomo announced. And a curfew on indoor and outdoor dining is being lifted at the end of next month.
New Jersey’s COVID-19 restrictions still prohibit bar seating.
“There’s just no other way to put it. We’ll have more news on that on Monday,” the governor said during a COVID-19 press conference earlier in the day.
A potential scenario where New Jerseyans travel to neighboring New York with its lower restrictions on restaurants, or to a state like Pennsylvania, was a particular concern for him.
”We don’t want that and New York doesn’t want that,” the governor said.
At the start of the pandemic last year, the governors of the Mid-Atlantic region said they wanted to stay in lockstep with their respective business shutdowns and subsequent reopening efforts. But Connecticut was the first in the tri-state area to announce it would lift its COVID-19 business restrictions, effective May 19, save for a facemask requirement.
New Jersey has typically trailed behind its neighbors, drawing the ire of business advocates and Republican lawmakers.
Widespread business reopenings, nonetheless, are incumbent on widespread COVID-19 vaccination efforts, as well as a slowdown in the COVID-19 pandemic.
We all wear masks?
Throughout the day on April 28, Murphy also said that New Jerseyans can expect to see few, if any changes to when they should wear a mask following a new set of guidelines the federal Centers for Disease Control put out this week.
“Our policy from day one I think, it will stay that way at least for the time being,” Murphy said during his “Ask Governor Murphy” appearance.
“If you’re outdoors and you can’t socially distance, you need to wear a mask,” he said. “If you can, you don’t need to wear a mask.”
The updated CDC guidance shrinks the number of situations where fully-vaccinated people need to wear a mask, compared to someone who has not gotten the shot.
“The feds have basically mimicked what we’ve been doing all along, although they’ve added the dimension of being fully vaccinated,” Murphy said during a COVID-19 daily press conference earlier on Wednesday.
Outdoor activities, regardless of vaccination status are safe, the CDC said, but only among people who are alone or gathered with immediate family members. Fully vaccinated people can gather indoors or outdoors without a mask in small groups. They do not have to wear face coverings when outdoors in small groups, even with people who haven’t had their COVID-19 shot. And, they don’t need to wear masks if they’re dining outdoors with friends or family.
For vaccinated and unvaccinated people, masks should be worn whenever they’re attending a crowded outdoor event such as a sports competition, live performance, or parade. But those activities are much higher risk for those who haven’t gotten their shots, the CDC said.
The feds have basically mimicked what we’ve been doing all along, although they’ve added the dimension of being fully vaccinated.
-Gov. Phil Murphy
Any person, regardless of whether they’ve gotten the shot, is still urged to wear a mask for any indoor activities, the CDC said. But those are still a lower risk for anyone that is fully inoculated.
One key difference separates what the state and federal governments are doing, Murphy pointed out in the afternoon. That is “that you need to be vaccinated to” not wear a mask outdoors. “We’ve not had that requirement, and I don’t expect that we will … We’re going to leave it where it is,” he said.
Roughly 4.8 million adults have gotten at least one shot – 60% of New Jersey adults – most of them from the two-shot Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, and a small percentage with the one-shot Johnson & Johnson doses. Full immunity is not built until two weeks after the second shot.
The goal is to fully vaccinate 4.7 million adults by the end of June 30, and the state is nearing 3 million total shots. State health officials contend that threshold is key to building widespread herd immunity that could curtail the spread of the virus, and in turn, lead to lifting COVID-19 business restrictions en masse.
Declining COVID-19 numbers – lower cases and hospitalizations, and a slower spread of the virus – are another vital measure to determine how ready the state is for further reopening.
Those numbers have moved in the “right direction,” Murphy said on WNYC.
The rate of transmission – or how fast the virus spreads – was 0.80 as of April 28, down from 0.88 the day before. The state logged less than 2,000 cases on April 28, for several days in a row. And there were 1,788 COVID-19 hospitalizations, the lowest patient count in five months.
A group of four Rutgers University researchers are developing a breathalyzer they hope can test someone for COVID-19.
The proposal calls for a type of breathalyzer that collects the particles of breath into an electronic biosensor, and then quickly produces a result “in minutes and without the need for an uncomfortable swab test.”
Edward DeMauro, the project’s lead researcher, said the aim is to have a turnaround in no more than 10 minutes.
“In addition to helping diagnose COVID-19, the goal of the project is to create a platform that can be expanded into a future, easy-to-use, non-invasive rapid breathalyzer to diagnose respiratory diseases, including possible future pandemics,” reads an April 27 statement from DeMauro, an assistant professor at Rutgers’ Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.
He’s working on the project with fellow researchers German Drazer, Hao Lin and Mehdi Javanmard. The proposal was awarded a two-year federal grant from the National Institute of Health’s Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics program, and it’s being overseen by the Rutgers HealthAdvance Fund.
Tests for COVID-19 have been a key part of business reopenings. Under the regulations Gov. Phil Murphy has signed over the past year, workers who test positive for COVID-19 are typically made to work from home, and self-isolate while awaiting their results if they suspect an infection.
“There are plenty of existing tests, including Rutgers’ saliva tests, that are also minimally invasive. And for reopening large venues, we also want to get results quickly at the point of administration,” DeMauro continued.
At the onset of the pandemic, wait times for COVID-19 tests could last upwards of two weeks, though that wait time was eventually whittled down to a number of days.
Gov. Phil Murphy said the state might loosen mask requirements for when fully vaccinated people have to wear face coverings outdoors, in accordance with guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control.
That follows recommendations from the CDC that those who have gotten the full COVID-19 inoculation do not have to wear masks outdoors, unless they are at large events or in crowded spaces.
“We will certainly, as we always do, take the CDC guidance seriously and work with that guidance and continue to open our state up,” Murphy said during an April 27 afternoon television appearance with MSNBC.
“If you can, you don’t need to. I would expect if there is then the next layer of full vaccination, that’s another step that we’ll be able to take,” he added.
The CDC guidance includes a handful of settings where fully vaccinated people do not have to wear a mask. Outdoor activities regardless of the vaccination status are safe, the CDC said, but only among people who are alone or gathered with immediate family members.
Fully vaccinated people can gather indoors or outdoors without a mask in small groups. They do not have to wear face coverings when outdoors in small groups, even with people who haven’t had their COVID-19 shot. And they don’t need to wear masks if they’re dining outdoors with friends or family.
For vaccinated and unvaccinated people, masks should be worn whenever they’re attending a crowded outdoor event such as a sports competition, live performance or a parade. But those activities are much higher risk for those who haven’t gotten their shots, the CDC said.
And any person, regardless of whether they’ve gotten the shot, is still urged to wear a mask for any indoor activities, the CDC said. But those are still a lower risk for anyone that is fully inoculated.
“If you are fully vaccinated and want to attend a small outdoor gathering with people who are vaccinated and unvaccinated, or dine at an outdoor restaurant with friends from multiple households, the science shows if you’re vaccinated, you can do so safely unmasked,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during a press briefing that day.
A spokesperson for the New Jersey Department of Health said in an email that the state agency “is reviewing the CDC’s updated recommendations.”
The loosened guidelines represent some of the latest COVID-19 restrictions that have been eased, both in New Jersey and across the nation. Connecticut is repealing most COVID-19 restrictions, except the mask mandate, while Massachusetts is scraping the mask requirement effective April 30. Last month, Murphy rolled back restrictions on indoor dining, gyms and other businesses.
Then on Monday, the governor expanded gathering limits for outdoor events and indoor catered events, such as proms and weddings. Those go into effect on May 10.
Murphy said the move was in response to improving numbers indicating this latest COVID-19 wave has begun to subside, as well as ramped up vaccination efforts.
The transmission rate of the virus – how fast it spreads – hit a two-month low in New Jersey. And daily cases have been below 2,000 for several days now.
As of April 27, the state fully vaccinated more than 2.86 million people – the goal is 4.7 million adults by the end of June.
“We’re not out of the woods yet, but we can methodically, incrementally, open up,” the governor added.
The federal Small Business Administration is opening applications on May 3 at noon for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, a $28.6 billion pot of money to help the restaurant industry devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year.
Registration for the applications begins April 30 30 at 9 a.m., the federal agency announced, and applications will remain open until funds run out.
Grants are capped at $10 million per business, and $5 million per location, and have to be completely used by March 11, 2023.
In order to target smaller employers, there are tiered set-asides for businesses depending on how much revenue they earned in 2019: $5 billion for businesses with up to half a million dollars in gross revenue, $500 million for businesses with up to $50,000 made in 2019, and $4 billion for restaurants that made between half a million dollars and $1.5 million in 2019.
“Restaurants are the core of our neighborhoods and propel economic activity on main streets across the nation,” reads a statement from SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman. “They are among the businesses that have been hardest hit and need support to survive this pandemic. We want restaurants to know that help is here.”
Between March and the first half of June last year, New Jersey restaurants were open only for take-out and delivery, with sit-down dining – both in- and outdoor – closed the entire time. Establishments were allowed to reopen for outdoor dining only beginning last June, and finally allowed to resume indoor dining at 25% capacity beginning Labor Day weekend last year. Indoor capacity expanded to 35% just before Super Bowl weekend, and then to 50% last month.
But owners say these restrictions, plus increased sanitization and social distancing efforts, have been devastating for their businesses.
The SBA is most known for the federal Paycheck Protection Program, an aid program enacted last year under then-President Donald Trump, which provides forgivable loans to businesses if they use the funds to keep their staff on the payroll.
As of April 27, the SBA awarded nearly $771 billion of PPP loans to 10.2 million businesses, of which $7.6 billion was awarded t0 122,739 New Jersey businesses.
Like with the PPP program, funds do not have to be repaid under the RRF program if they are used for “eligible expenses.”
According to the National Restaurant Association, those include payroll costs and sick leave; rent and utilities; maintenance and the addition of outdoor dining accommodations; food and beverage inventory; and personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies.
The program was part of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan that President Joe Biden signed in March.
Applications went live April 26 for another SBA program, the long-awarded Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, which entails $16 billion in funds to help theaters, museums, venues and other live event spaces hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
State health officials are grappling with a drop-off in demand for the COVID-19 vaccine, a development that they say was expected, but has nonetheless jeopardized the Murphy administration’s ambitious statewide inoculation goals.
“The drop in demand, we expected it either last week or this week, and it started last week,” Gov. Phil Murphy said during an April 26 COVID-19 press briefing. “It was part of the reason why we jumped earlier from May 1 to April 19 to expand eligibility to everybody.”
State health officials are racing to fully vaccinate 4.7 million New Jersey adults by June 30, a threshold that they argue is key to building widespread herd immunity that could curtail the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and in turn, lead to lifting COVID-19 business restrictions en masse.
Murphy suggested that fewer people are willing to get the vaccine because of such mindsets as “the weather’s getting warmer, the numbers are going in the right direction, I feel good, I haven’t gotten sick yet.”
“Those are not [good] reasons,” he said. “We need folks to get vaccinated.”
Murphy contended that the 4.7 million-person goal is still attainable, even with a nearly two-week pause on the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The state resumed the use of the J&J vaccine over the weekend and administered 19 doses according to New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichillli. She predicted the number was much higher in actuality, and that there were lags in data reportage.
Federal health officials instituted the pause following several reports of rare blood clots among some J&J recipients. Despite assurances of the J&J shot’s safety, public interest in taking the shot has nosedived.
An ABC News/Washington Post Survey released April 26 found that 22% of respondents said they would take the shot, compared to 73% who said they would turn down a J&J vaccine.
J&J vaccines were a more attractive option for delivering shots to hard-to-reach and vulnerable populations, such as the homeless, elderly, and lower-inome, urban residents, as they are effective after a single dose and require storage in refrigeration-level temperatures. That’s unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which require two doses spaced roughly a month apart, and storage in Arctic-level temperatures.
Many of those groups “may not be able to come in for a second dose or it will be difficult to track a second dose,” Persichilli said.
J&J shots make up a small percentage of the 2.8 million New Jerseyans who’ve been fully vaccinated.
“If you put the J&J vaccine aside for a second, you really have to get the 4.7 millionth first shot in the arm by the end of May if you’re going to get the last shot” before the June 30 deadline, the governor said. “We need a suite of proactive actions.”
Most of the people the state has vaccinated by now fall into the group of 3.6 million New Jerseyans that waited in line for months during the winter and spring, according to the health commissioner.
Advertising has gradually been ramped up in the past few months, starting first with health care workers and continuing to target the growing net of the eligible adult population, according to Persichilli.
Gov. Phil Murphy said on April 26 that he will sign an order lifting capacity restrictions for indoor catered events, outdoor venues and public gatherings ahead of the summer season.
The orders go into effect on May 10 and mark an “incremental” reopening that the governor has promised as the state transitions into the warmer summer months, which allow for outdoor gatherings where the virus is less contagious, and as the state ramps up its vaccine efforts and gradually gets this latest wave of the COVID-19 pandemic under control.
As of April 26, the state fully vaccinated more than 2.8 million adults; the goal is 4.7 million adults by June 30.
“With the resumption of the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine following a rigorous scientific review of a rare blood clot, we once again have all three tools back in our toolbox. So, our confidence levels were restored by that announcement,” the governor said.
Hospitalizations are down 25% from April 7, Murphy said. And the state logged less than 2,000 cases for the second day in a row for the first time in over a month. The rate of transmission has consistently stayed below 1 for weeks, meaning the virus is not spreading.
“Because of everything you are doing – whether it is continuing to wear your masks and social distancing or getting vaccinated – you are helping us crush these curves yet again,” the governor added. “And because of that, we are pleased to be able to take more steps forward in our reopening process.”
Many business owners and local officials along the Jersey Shore expect these factors will lead to an explosion in summer tourists stemming from pent-up demand after months of closures and isolation over the wintery second wave.
Under the orders Murphy is signing, the limits for outdoor gatherings will be expanded from 200 people to 500 people.
A Memorial Day parade can go forward as planned as long as attendees are masked and practicing social distancing, Murphy said. But an event at the end of the parade, like a band stand, would be subject to that 500-person limit.
Restrictions for outdoor venues will be lowered. Currently, venues with a seating capacity of at least 2,500 people are limited to 30% capacity. Under this order, the threshold will be raised to a 50% capacity limit for venues with at least 1,000 people.
And so that means that, for example, the 17,500-seat PNC Bank Arts Center, the roughly 52,400-seat SHI Stadium at Rutgers University and the 82,500-seat MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford would be limited to half their capacity, assuming they can enforce 6-foot social distancing and mask requirements.
The order Murphy is signing will not affect indoor venues, which are limited to 15% capacity.
Carnivals and county and state fairs – like the New Jersey State Fair in Sussex County – will be able to operate at 50% capacity.
[I]f the numbers keep going in the right direction [and people get the vaccine] our capacities will continue to open up. Sure as we’re sitting here.
– Gov. Phil Murphy
“We are doing this both because we are expecting the downward trend to continue over the next two weeks, and because we want to give businesses the ability to plan ahead and fully prepare,” Murphy added. “To be sure, looking at the trend in our numbers over the past weeks, we fully expect to continue our streak of announcing expansions and sticking to them.”
He continued that “if the numbers keep going in the right direction” and people get the vaccine, “our capacities will continue to open up. Sure as we’re sitting here.”
Indoor catered events – weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, sweet 16s, graduation parties, proms and others – will be limited to 50% or 250 people, whichever is lower. And this time, the dance floors will be allowed to reopen, but only for “closed and closely supervised events.”
Restrictions on masks and social distancing will be enforced, Murphy said. Dance floors at bars and nightclubs are closed “as we know they are less controlled and more hospitable for this virus.”
“You’re only a senior in high school once. You’re only getting married – perhaps not once [sic]. These are big deal events,” the governor said.
“We’re asking these organizations – catering halls and other events that are being catered – we believe they have a higher ability to police what’s going on than just opening it up more broadly to everybody.”
And indoor dining restrictions, as well as those at other indoor businesses such as entertainment, casinos and retail, will remain at 50%.
But outdoor dining, Murphy pointed out, is not subject to capacity restrictions beyond the 6-foot social distancing, which Murphy said the state is “prepared to relax” pending more review by the federal Centers for Disease Control.
“[W]hen it comes to outdoor venues, we are aware that the [Center for Disease Control] is currently reviewing its outdoor guidelines, more generally, and we will be prepared to relax the 6-foot distancing requirement outdoors accordingly should the CDC move in that direction.”
He cautioned that “if you’re outside and you cannot socially distance, you need to wear a mask.”
“I continue to urge everyone to engage in activities outside wherever possible, particularly as the weather warms up,” the governor said. “We know that this virus is much less dangerous outdoors than indoors.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 2:29 p.m. EST on April 26, 2021 to include additional remarks from Gov. Phil Murphy.
Experts warn the program could run out of funding before the end of next month. With countless businesses still vulnerable, PPP loan relief remains in high demand. First Bank knows this well. After processing $190 million in PPP loans in 2020, we have received $110 million in PPP applications just three-plus months into 2021.
Still, despite helping New Jersey businesses of all sizes get through these challenging times, many companies remain skeptical about applying, even though it’s been a year since the program’s introduction. Myths, misconceptions, inaccuracies—you name it—linger, and they may be causing unnecessary hesitation.
Let’s dive into five common PPP misunderstandings and explain why, if you’re a business in need of cash, the time to act is now.
Only large businesses, not small ones, get approved. So, why bother?
This idea may have seemed true early on in the PPP application process —mostly because larger businesses were able to submit their applications faster—but it is certainly not the case today.
According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, most small businesses with fewer than 500 employees are eligible for a PPP loan. At First Bank, we’ve seen that the vast majority of companies that apply do end up qualifying, and they are getting forgivable loans approved and funded very quickly.
Also, consider this: Analysis from the SBA shows that of all the businesses that have received PPP backing, 75% have nine or fewer employees, proof that the program is doing specifically what it was designed to do: keep small businesses going until the economy improves.
Because I’m an independent contractor and have no employees, I don’t qualify.
When federal authorities say businesses with fewer than 500 employees are eligible, that includes businesses with the lowest number of all: One—you.
After the SBA released a revision to its formula to calculate maximum loan size for sole proprietors, that’s more obvious now. Instead of employee payroll expenses, the new calculation is based on lost income. For most independent contractors, this results in a significantly higher PPP loan amount.
But before this change, it probably seemed like independent contractors weren’t eligible. They were, except they qualified for a loan amount so small, most felt it wasn’t worth the effort. Now, sole proprietors potentially qualify for a larger loan, depending on the specifics of their business.
PPP loans are only for businesses about to go bankrupt. True?
While the federal government doesn’t want businesses that don’t need money to apply, the goal of the PPP is to help as many businesses as possible keep as many employees as possible on the payroll—and businesses affected by COVID-19 have a more challenging time meeting this objective.
If you can verify that your business has been hit hard by the ongoing pandemic, apply. You don’t have to wait for the threat of bankruptcy to approach.
I’ve received other types of SBA assistance, so PPP review results in an automatic no.
Depending on what other programs you’ve applied for at the time, it’s possible that the other SBA grants could be netted against the amount you qualify for in PPP loans. Again, that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t be eligible. It simply means that the other types of government funding you have received could impact how much you get in PPP aid.
PPP loans are automatically forgivable.
No, a little more work remains. You still need to file paperwork requesting forgiveness and provide supporting documentation, if required.
Now that the SBA has expanded its rules for what qualifies for forgiveness, the chances of you clearing your loan, which were already high, grew exponentially. Per the SBA, more of your business expenses are now eligible for forgiveness, which is a leading reason the vast majority of the loans we have given have been forgiven.
Do the above clarifications suggest that applying for and receiving a PPP loan is a must? No. Every business has its unique set of circumstances, yours included.
But if your business, regardless of size, is in need of an economic shot in the arm to save its most valuable resources—you and your staff—it’s certainly worth looking more into while there’s still money on the table.
During the pandemic, many small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) across New Jersey have either pivoted or shifted their business creatively to stay afloat. The pandemic also forced entrepreneurs to reinvent themselves. Some were able to pivot successfully by moving their businesses online, restructuring their operations and finding new ways to engage their customers.
We are now a year into the pandemic, the outlook for SMBs in New Jersey seems slightly better based on recent economic data. To move forward, how can you leverage your bank to help stabilize your business and finance your growth? Can your bank play a more active role in helping navigate the financing landscape?
Many SMBs in New Jersey have relied on federal and state stimulus programs through the Small Business Administration (SBA), as well as other government agencies and private foundations that offered loans and grants to keep the lights on.
While these funding sources were helpful to the survival of the businesses, many programs were only meant to be stopgap measures. For New Jersey-based companies to continue to grow in the long run, entrepreneurs in the state need to assess their financial viability and find additional financing options.
While there is a large ecosystem of financing options for SMBs, bank financing is among the most cost-efficient choice, and banks want to lend you money. Most banks slowed down on the lending activities during the pandemic not only due to global economic deterioration and market uncertainties but also because they were occupied with shifting their own operations remotely, dealing with existing customers, and dedicating resources to handle large volume of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. Depending on how quickly banks can overcome their internal challenges, it is safe to say that banks’ lending activities will resume.
In contrast to the 2008 financial crisis, banks do not have liquidity issues this time around. In fact, most banks have excess liquidity that they need to deploy. It does not mean it will be easy to get a loan from the banks now, but it suggests banks have the motivation to find good companies to lend to. Banks also carefully navigate the economic complexity and uncertainties and try to find prudent ways to lend money to businesses. That’s something every entrepreneur based in New Jersey should keep in mind along with the following:
Leverage your bank to find sustainable paths. You want to ensure your banker and/or financial advisors are aware of your situation and the changes you’ve made to the business.
If you have an existing credit facility, you should evaluate with your banker whether the loan structure still makes sense for your current business. Ask for their help to reassess the sustainable paths to profitability.
Banks have the incentives to help as they do not want your business to fail and default on the loan. Just like commercial real estate, people think banks want to take property back quickly to protect their interest. It is simply not true as banks are not in the business of owning and managing properties. They don’t want to repossess any properties unless it is the absolute last resort.
Most banks understand the unprecedented challenges the pandemic has imposed on businesses. Be upfront and transparent with your bank but come with a plan and a reasonable projection for your business. Be ready to explain any oddities and material changes on your recent financial performance.
It’s important to work with your bank in lockstep and create a financing structure that ensures the overall financial stability for the business.
Remember it’s not just you but your industry. One of the most common stories we heard throughout the pandemic is entrepreneurs embraced e-commerce by moving their businesses online. Many consumer product retailers have succeeded in transforming their companies and began to reach customers directly. Subsequently, it changes the way these businesses carry inventories, receive orders and deliver their products and services. If these are permanent changes to your business, you need to communicate to your bank about the new model and how it would be reflected on your financial statement.
Use the opportunity to understand whether your bank has flexible financial solutions that can be dialed up or down as your business ebbs and flows. To thrive in the current economic environment, entrepreneurs need to be highly aware of the shifting landscape and resources available.
Know that you are not the only one that’s making these types of changes. The pandemic has reshaped industry dynamics and shuffled competition across the country. Establish a relationship with a bank that has the expertise to support your type of business. In addition to lending the capital you need, if your banker specializes in your industry, they can offer expert guidance and industry insights to help you navigate through these changes.
Hang in there. We are seeing light at the end of the tunnel. While many small businesses in the state are still vulnerable, with the increase in vaccination rate, we are starting to see the resume of business activities. For New Jersey, the formation of new businesses has accelerated during the pandemic according to U.S. census data. We can expect to see wonderful new ideas from these companies that are born during the pandemic.
Let’s continue to stay positive. And stay together.
As the state begins to recover from the COVID-19 economic downturn, the industries hit hardest by the pandemic a year ago seem to be rebounding most quickly. Sectors such leisure and hospitality, and construction have boomed in recent months, posting some of the largest job gains this spring.
“Leisure and hospitality, which of course has been terribly depressed in New Jersey, we saw a pretty healthy increase in March,” said Charles Steindel, the state’s chief economist under former Gov. Chris Christie. Leisure and hospitality includes businesses such as hotels, restaurants, food service, catering and events.
Steindel added that the strongest job growth over the summer and into the fall is likely to occur along the shore. And construction also should recover as buyers with ample spending power set their sights on spacious and socially distanced New Jersey suburbs.
“This is really the start of a very strong bounce-back,” said James Hughes, a planning and public policy professor at Rutgers University, and former dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. “It’s based on vaccination levels that have taken place, a lot of consumer savings that took place over the past year, increasing demand for people wanting to get out of the house, go to restaurants, travel, go on vacation. All of those factors together are pushing toward … really good numbers.”
Pent up demand also will likely bring in tourists, an influx that will also increase demand for workers. And concerns over whether shore businesses can secure enough J-1 visas – a typical source of labor during the summer months – means businesses may turn to the ordinarily difficult to reach local population.
“All of our schools are in session, so we don’t have a workforce for the pre-seasons or the postseason, pre-Memorial Day or post-Labor Day,” said Michele Siekerka, president and chief executive officer of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association. “We cannot recruit people to work just given school schedules. It’s not like it was two decades ago, where you were working on the boardwalk.”
An April 2020 news release from the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development showed that in March, when the COVID-19 business restricutions went into effect, the state lost 14,800 jobs in the leisure and hospitality sector, 3,600 jobs in professional and business services, 2,500 jobs in education and health services and 1,000 jobs in financial activities.
All nine major employment sectors saw worsening numbers in April last year, the Labor Department said in May 2020. Leisure and hospitality lost 236,500 jobs; trade, transportation and utilities lost 157,500 jobs; education and health services lost 113,100 jobs; and professional and business services lost 90,100 jobs.
“Other services,” which the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics defines as “equipment and machinery repairing, promoting or administering religious activities, grant-making, advocacy, and providing dry-cleaning and laundry services, personal care services, death care services, pet care services, photofinishing services, temporary parking services, and dating services,” lost 57,200 jobs in New Jersey that month. Construction shed 43,800 jobs; manufacturing lost 33,900 jobs; financial activities lost 12,800 jobs; information services lost 5,100 jobs, and public sector employment levels in the state shrank by 7,600 positions.
All have slowly rebounded. Whereas the state shed 22,300 jobs in the private sector in March 2020 and saw nearly 2.2 million people file for unemployment over the following year, this past March the state added 20,800 jobs in the private sector. The state shed 750,100 jobs in April 2020; jobs data for April 2021 will not be available until mid-May.
The job gains since the start of the year reflect a general increase in the number of openings in the private sector. The state added 900 private sector jobs in January, 10,700 jobs in February and 20,800 jobs in March.
“You like to see 10,000 more every month,” Steindel said. But, he continued, “20,000 in a month by itself means we don’t get back into the previous levels until the middle or latter part of next year. We want to see the numbers in the 50,000 range continuing for a while.”
On construction, Steindel said the influx of buyers into the New Jersey residential real estate market increases demand for new projects, along with renovations and upgrades for existing housing stock. And the ambitious offshore wind sector being pushed by Gov. Phil Murphy – as well as potential progress on the Gateway transportation project – could also create construction jobs.
“Infrastructure has always been something where we’ve had tremendous [return on investment], every dollar spent turns to much more than a dollar in the broader economy,” Greg Lalevee, business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 825, said in an interview. “Anything that the government can put into infrastructure spending is momentum for the entire economy.”
Makada Henry-Nickie, a governance fellow at the center-left Brookings Institution, agreed that infrastructure spending could make a difference. “This is firmly about investing our money in revitalizing our communities that we have talked ad nauseam about … racial equity and inclusion,” she said. “When the rubber hits the road, this is a down payment. This is the kind of scale of the investment it takes.”
Leisure and hospitality added 6,400 new jobs in February, and 5,700 jobs in March. Education and health services added 4,200 jobs; construction added 3,800 jobs; trade, transportation and utilities added 3,300 jobs; manufacturing added 2,100 jobs; information services added 800 new jobs; financial activities added 400 new jobs; and professional and business services added 200 new jobs.
The sector of “other services” shaved off 500 job positions in March, according to labor data.
“While the economy has shown some signs of recovery, we are still far from where we need to be,” said Vineeta Kapahi, an analyst at the left-leaning think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective, in an email.
“In addition, employment patterns are uneven across industries and communities. A strong and inclusive economic recovery will require continued investments in New Jersey’s communities, stronger protections for workers, and increased support for families.”
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