TRENTON, NJ -- Although he planned to loosen restrictions on indoor dining in New Jersey on Thursday, July 2, Gov. Phil Murphy announced at his daily COVID-19 press conference Monday that he will delay the reopening. He provided no timetable of when indoor dining -- even at reduced capacity -- would resume.

Murphy pointed to packed crowds at outdoor bars and restaurants -- with people not wearing masks and ignoring social distancing -- as reasons for postponing the return of indoor dining indefinitely.

"We have been cautious throughout every step of our restart. We’ve always said that we would not hesitate to hit pause if needed to safeguard public health. This is one of those times. After COVID-19 spikes in other states driven by, in part, the return of indoor dining, we have decided to postpone indoor dining indefinitely," said Murphy, who announced 18 new COVID-19 related deaths and downward trends of key measures on Monday.

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"We have enormous sympathy (for small business owners) but the alternative is worse," Murphy said. "Keeping up the fight is even more important now to prevent us from backsliding."

“We have seen spikes in other states driven, in part, by the return of patrons to indoor dining establishments, where they are seated, and without face coverings,” he said. “We are also moved to take this step because of what we have seen in some establishments across the state.”

Minority Leader in the New Jersey State Assembly minority leader Jon Bramnick, a Republican, was quick to speak out.

"I am very disappointed that the Governor without any consultation of the elected legislature stopped reopening of indoor dining scheduled for this Thursday," said Bramnick via Twitter. "This should not be decided by one person. No transparency, no discussion and no debate."

Clark’s Mayor reacts

Mayor Bonaccorso expressed his disappointment in the Governor’s decision.  “I can respect a man worrying about the safety of the state, but I don’t know how you penalize the restaurants that were finally going to be able to open for indoor dining because some of the restaurants with outdoor dining didn’t do the right thing,” said Bonaccorso. “I don’t get how one justifies the other.”

When asked what he would suggest instead, Bonaccorso said he thought the governor, through the Attorney General and NJ Prosector’s offices should work with local law enforcement or other state agencies to spot check and enforce the requirements.  He even suggested restaurants hire an off-duty police officer to monitor capacity limitations, social distancing and other measures required by the state.

“These restaurant owners have bought food, supplies and have been preparing to open and now what, they throw it all away? It’s not right,” Bonaccorso said. “These people are paying rent, taxes, mortgages, insurance and more and they have no income to support that.”

When asked about private parties at residences around town that are easily seen on social media that would violate some of the same rules outdoor dining establishments have been accused of ignoring, Bonaccorso was quick to reply.

“Yes, I think some people are not taking this seriously.  Look people are tired, they have been locked up so long, it’s like they were tied to their chairs and finally got their freedom,” he said.  “There is the human side of this at this point.  Some people might be comfortable with that, others wouldn’t be and would leave.”

Bonaccorso had a message for those outdoor establishments that led Governor Murphy to postpone any future steps for other businesses.  “To the restaurant owners open for outdoor dining that aren’t doing the right thing, maybe it is time to wise up and follow the guidelines before Murphy shuts it all down again.”

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