By: Michael Mandarino, Follow South Jersey Managing Editor
Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 9:15 a.m. on May 19. It was originally published on Monday, May 3.
TRENTON, N.J. — On Monday, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced a swath of new changes to the state’s COVID-19 restrictions — including a removal of the 50% capacity limit for indoor dining — effective today, May 19.
Today, indoor dining, casinos, gyms/fitness clubs, and other indoor and outdoor recreational businesses will all have their current 50% capacity limits lifted. Additionally, New Jersey will lift the current 500-person general outdoor capacity limit today, a move that will allow summer staples like festivals and fireworks displays take place without capacity limits. New Jersey’s general indoor social gathering limit, which applies to events like house parties, will be increased to 50 people on May 19.
Although capacity limits will be removed today, businesses will still be required to have their guests and customers maintain six feet of social distancing. Although New Jersey has lifted its mask mandate for outdoor public settings, the state hasn’t yet lifted its indoor mask mandate. For the time being, New Jersey residents will be required to wear masks in indoor public settings — though the CDC said that fully vaccinated individuals don’t need to wear masks or socially distance in most public places.
“These are the most aggressive steps we have taken to reopen to date. We are confident that we can do this safely because our numbers have trended decisively in the right direction over the last three weeks,” Gov. Murphy said during his regularly-scheduled COVID-19 briefing on May 3. “We have done exactly what we have said we would do all along: We have made these decisions based on our public health metrics, and not on politics.”
Additionally, the changes Gov. Murphy announced last week to capacity limits on private catered events such as proms, weddings, funerals/memorial services, and political events took effect on Friday, May 7 — three days prior to the previously-announced date of May 10. The Governor noted that some schools are holding their proms this weekend, so this change will allow those residents to enjoy their proms without the stricter COVID-19 measures in place.
“We feel confident in moving up this timetable by three days, given the accelerated progress we are seeing in our vaccination program, hospital metrics, and lower daily case counts,” Gov. Murphy said.
The current prohibitions on bar-side seating and buffets/self-service food settings were also lifted on May 7. Bars and buffets will still be required to enforce six feet of social distancing, as congregations of people standing by bars and buffets could potentially increase the risk of COVID-19 spreading. Although Gov. Murphy doesn’t have any “inside knowledge” regarding the social distancing policies currently in place, he expects the six-foot requirement to be decreased as the United States continues to make progress in its fight against COVID-19.
At the end of April, Gov. Murphy said he anticipated New Jersey’s COVID-19 reopening effort to accelerate after he made his first “major” announcement regarding the state’s reopening. He also noted that these changes would take effect as long as New Jersey’s COVID-19 metrics continue to trend in the right direction, and he expects the state to “hit this May 19 target date with a bullseye” based on the progress it has made in the fight against COVID-19 so far. Gov. Murphy signed the executive order to officially institute these changes on May 13.
In addition to the measures taken to reopen the state, Gov. Murphy announced a list of plans called “Operation Jersey Summer” to encourage hesitant New Jerseyans to get inoculated with the COVID-19 vaccine. The “Shot for a Beer” program, which will allow New Jersey residents aged 21 and older to get a free beer at participating bars across the state, is part of “Operation Jersey Summer” along with the opening of all COVID-19 vaccine mega sites across the state to walk-in appointments, an email campaign, and the making of localized COVID-19 vaccine data available, among other measures.
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