By: Michael Mandarino, Follow South Jersey Assignment Editor
TRENTON, N.J. — Governor Phil Murphy announced on Monday morning that restaurants will be allowed to resume indoor dining on Friday, September 4. Restaurants will be required to operate at 25% capacity and space out tables in order to meet social distancing requirements.
“I am proud that our restaurants will be able to return to some level of indoor service for Labor Day weekend,” Gov. Murphy said at his coronavirus briefing on Monday afternoon. “As we all know, this pandemic isn’t over yet, and our goal is to ensure this step is done properly to prevent the kind of spikes we saw in other states that allowed restaurants to reopen too fully and too quickly — steps that required us to hit the pause button on our earlier plan to allow indoor dining to resume.”
Only eight people per group will be allowed to dine together at a time. All staffers must wear masks at all times, and all customers will be required to wear a mask when they aren’t sitting down at their table. Diners can only consume food and beverages while they’re seated, so, for example, drinking while standing is not allowed.
Additionally, patrons are allowed to dine at a bar with proper social distancing measures in place. Groups of people seated together at bars are limited to four, and diners can only order food while seated. Customers, for example, will not be allowed to walk up to a bar and order a drink.
“We have been working hard for several months to get to this point,” Murphy said. “After the pullback from our initial July target date, we committed that we would not put ourselves in a similar position again and we would not allow for indoor dining to resume until we had confidence that we would move forward. This was simply a matter of ‘when’ and never a matter of ‘if.'”
Murphy also announced that movie theaters and other indoor performance spaces will also be allowed to reopen at a limited capacity beginning on September 4. Social distancing measures will be required while going to movie theaters, and capacity will be limited to 25% capacity or 150 people — whichever number is smaller.
Other indoor gatherings — including funerals, weddings, and religious services — will also be allowed to take place with the same capacity as movie theaters thanks to a capacity increase instituted by Gov. Murphy. Memorial services and political activities will also have their capacity limits increased.
The governor’s announcement comes after he allowed gyms and indoor fitness centers to reopen beginning on September 1. Restaurants throughout the state have offered outdoor dining to customers during the summer, but a decision to reopen limited indoor dining earlier this summer was reversed due to a spike in coronavirus cases.
Outdoor dining will be allowed to continue as indoor dining begins its reopening path. It was initially a challenge for some restaurants to reopen with exclusively-outdoor dining earlier this summer.
“It has been a challenge adjusting [to outdoor dining], but I believe we have been able to overcome quite a few obstacles,” Melissa Yilmaz, a staff member at the Green Olive Restaurant & Lounge in Bridgeton, said earlier this summer. “I feel that our state is one of the few that is taking its time because there are a lot of other states that have opened up too quickly, where masks aren’t a requirement in some spaces. In those states, several restaurants are open indoors, but they are already shutting down because COVID-19 cases are rising.”
Gyms and indoor fitness centers will be required to adhere to a number of coronavirus-related safety guidelines that include social distancing, keeping logs of who enters the gym, and frequent sanitation of equipment.
The decision is also a bit of a surprise, as Murphy said last week that he hoped to have some indoor dining and movie theaters allowed by the middle of September.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with information from Gov. Murphy’s coronavirus briefing, which took place at 1:15 p.m. on Monday, August 31.
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