New bumps in the road as NJ considers more indoor dining
For the past several weeks, as the weather has started to turn cooler, Gov. Phil Murphy has been suggesting indoor dining capacity could soon be increased from the current maximum of 25% of capacity to perhaps as high as 50%.
But with the number of positive coronavirus cases on the rise in the Garden State, the issue has suddenly become clouded.
During his latest COVID-19 update Monday, Murphy once again said there is no evidence to suggest the resumption of limited capacity indoor dining has contributed to the rise in COVID cases. But on Monday, there were 1,192 new cases reported — a continuing recent trend of more than 1,000 a day.
“These numbers are sobering, I have to say," Murphy said. "So we are war-gaming a whole lot of potential steps that we can take, whether it’s indoor or outdoor or both dining without adding to our rising numbers.”
The governor suggested increasing indoor dining capacity while the overall number of positive COVID cases keeps rising could confuse people.
“One concern I think we are coming to, all of us who are trying to get this as right as we can, is we also don’t want to send mixed messages,” he said. “We not only have to help our restaurants, but we’ve got to, I think, be consistent in the plea for responsibility among citizenry.”
Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said “now is the time to double down on social distancing, wearing face coverings and good hand hygiene.”
She said as the weather gets colder, activities including restaurant dining, are increasingly moving indoors — and “the risk of transmission increases."
"The trajectory of the next few months will be determined by all of us now," Persichilli said.
The governor said to stop the rise in new COVID cases, “we gotta do everything we can, I know this sounds silly, but we gotta stay outside as much as we can.”
He said he didn't want to "lurch backward" after announcing an increase in indoor dining capacity" — just because there’s too much investment, too much planning involved.”
The governor has already lurched backward once before, drawing complaints from a stretched-thin industry that said uncertainty and last-minute rule changes wasted restaurants' time and money. Limited capacity indoor dining originally had been given the verbal go-ahead for July 2, but three days before that, as COVID cases began to spike sharply across the country, Murphy abruptly announced it would be delayed.
Murphy also said changes to indoor gathering limits in homes and for religious services was also “on the table," however no decisions at this point have been made.
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