Murphy relaxes indoor gathering restrictions
Governor Murphy relaxed indoor gathering restrictions from 25% to 35%.
Paul Wood Jr, NorthJersey.com
Just in time for Super Bowl Sunday, Gov. Phil Murphy said he will slightly relax indoor restrictions in New Jersey by increasing capacity limits from the current 25% up to 35% and allowing restaurants to stay open past 10 p.m., he announced Wednesday. The executive order would go into effect 6 a.m. Friday.
Restaurants, gyms, casinos, personal care businesses, and amusement and recreation facilities would be able to allow 35% of their capacity inside under an executive order Murphy plans to sign on Wednesday.
The order will also increase the number of people who can go to performance venues and indoor gatherings, including religious ceremonies or services, wedding ceremonies, political activities, memorial services or funerals.
However, the maximum number of people allowed inside will be capped at 150.
While Murphy plans to lift the rule requiring restaurants to close by 10 p.m., localities and counties would be allowed to put in place their own restrictions on the hours of operation.
Customers will still not be allowed to sit at indoor bar areas because, Murphy said in his prepared remarks, “it creates the danger of close and prolonged proximity between patrons, bartenders, and servers.”
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New Jerseyans will still need to follow public health best practices, and the requirement for wearing a mask indoors except when eating or drinking still applies.
“While some of our numbers are still high, we believe that we can make this expansion without leading to undue further stress on our health care system,” Murphy said.
Murphy did not specify what COVID-19 data he would need to see in order to allow more people to gather indoors.
“I can’t promise you that, ‘Down by x leads to y,’ but if the numbers keep going down there’s no question, our strong desire and I believe our actions will be to continue to open things up,” Murphy said.
Murphy noted that the number of people in the hospital had declined by about 20% in the last three weeks, but said that statistic was used “to put a fine point on the fact that the numbers are going in the right direction…as a conceptual matter.”
While New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday that local governments could administer COVID-19 vaccines to restaurant workers, Murphy said there was “nothing to report” when asked if New Jersey would follow suit.
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The lifting of restrictions aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus would come just in time for Super Bowl Sunday. Last week, when Republican Sen. Anthony Bucco of Boonton called on Murphy to ease the 10 p.m. curfew for the football championship game, his office rejected the suggestion.
“We have seen how nightlife can get out of control quickly and lead to outbreaks of COVID-19 cases,” Murphy spokesman Daryl Isherwood said in response to Bucco’s request. “We are still deep in the heart of the second wave of the pandemic, and as Governor Murphy has said repeatedly, now is not the time to let down our guard, it is the time to recommit to fighting this virus.”
Bucco said Murphy’s decision announced Wednesday “makes an awful lot of sense because people will be safer.”
“To tell restaurants they had to send people home at 10:00 before the game was over was only going to push people to house parties where they wouldn’t be in an atmosphere where there were sanitation protocols and social distancing,” Bucco said.
Murphy said he feels “confident in signing this order because of the recent trends in our hospitals and our rate of transmission.”
In the last few weeks, the number of people in New Jersey hospitals who tested positive for COVID-19 or are awaiting test results has been on the decline. On Tuesday night, 2,986 people were in the hospital, down from 3,760 people on Jan. 16., the highest point this year.
The rate of transmission is .95, meaning that a person with COVID-19 is not likely to infect multiple people with the virus.
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State modeling data predict that New Jersey already hit its peak of hospitalizations and positive cases of COVID-19 at the end of January. In a best-case scenario, if New Jersey meets its goal of vaccinating 70% of the adult population by the end of June, fewer than 400 people could be hospitalized at once, a fraction of the current reality.
“We are able to take this step today because the data says we can,” Murphy said. “And, the data says we can because of the hard work millions of you have put in.”
Ashley Balcerzak is a reporter in the New Jersey Statehouse. For unlimited access to her work covering New Jersey’s Legislature and political power structure, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.