Movie theaters and indoor venues can reopen Sept. 4 at limited capacity, Gov. Phil Murphy said at today’s state press conference, as he repeated his announcement from this morning that restaurants may now have limited capacity indoor dining also beginning Sept. 4. Separately, religious services – including weddings, funerals and memorial services – can increase indoor capacity limits.
Murphy said, “In the final analysis, we are able to take all of these steps today because of the hard work millions of you have done to help keep pushing down our [coronavirus] positivity rate, [coronavirus] rate of transmission and all the other health metrics we follow, to where we are comfortable and confident in taking these steps.”
Movie theaters must limit capacity to 25% or 150 people per screen in a multiplex layout, whichever is the lesser number, Murphy said, as he advised that groups may sit together, but they must be separated by six feet. Masks must be worn at all times in a movie theater except, in effect, when patrons are seated and eating popcorn.
Restaurants are also limited to 25% capacity, and closely-seated dining groups must be limited to eight people with the exception of immediate families; groups as a whole must be six feet apart in restaurants. Face masks must be worn at all times inside restaurants except while eating, and patrons cannot walk to bar areas to order food or beverages; those orders can only be placed via staff while sitting at a table. Dining is permitted at bars in groups up to four people, but the groups must be separated by six feet.
Among a host of forthcoming New Jersey Department of Health Guidelines, restaurants must additionally leave their windows open and adjust air conditioning units so that fresh air is brought inside with as little air-recycling as possible.
Michele Siekerka, president and CEO of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association (NJBIA), said in a statement overall, “Once again, the odds are still long for restaurants to thrive with limited indoor capacity, particularly as we steer toward colder weather in the coming months when outdoor dining will not be as feasible. We are pleased that restaurants are finally getting their rightful opportunity to reopen indoor dining. But, for some, we hope it’s not too little, too late.” (click here for Siekerka’s full statement)
Referring to Murphy’s June 23 announcement that restaurants would reopen on July 2 – only for Murphy to cancel these plans on June 29 – Marilou Halvorsen, president and CEO of the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association, tells New Jersey Business, “I think the governor has mentioned that he is not going to do that false start, again. I think he realized the financial impact that had on a lot of restaurants. From what I have heard from him, he is very much committed to us moving forward.”
She added, “We are excited about that, and hope that we are going to be able to [increase the dining capacity] number, because as we move into the colder weather, 25% capacity is not sustainable [for our restaurants, financially,] for the long-haul.”
All of New Jersey’s restaurants and bars were closed on March 16 except for takeout and delivery, and outdoor dining was afterwards permitted beginning on June 15. The overall shutdown caused 35% of the state’s nearly 25,000 eateries to close, Halvorsen says, adding: “We do not know how many are going to come back.”
She hopes for a warmer fall where diners can continue to eat outside to compensate for limited indoor dining/revenues, as she also hopes, again, that Murphy will increase indoor dining limits.
Halvorsen additionally does not want restaurants to be unfairly blamed for any potential increases in statewide coronavirus cases, saying, “My one concern is that as schools, gyms and theaters reopen – that if there is an increase in [coronavirus] numbers, it is not automatically blamed on the restaurants.” She explained in that other states which have seen increased cases, they are often traced to other sources.
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