TRENTON, NJ – Gov. Phil Murphy outlined a series of guidelines Thursday for the thousands of bars and restaurants across the state to follow when they begin to welcome back patrons on June 15.
Although non-essential retail businesses will follow familiar rules that have been observed for months at supermarkets, pharmacies and other essential businesses, there could be a decided lack of ambiance but an abundance of caution at bars and restaurants.
Executive Order 150 will require them to seat no more than eight at a table, with tables situated at least six feet apart and diners sitting at least six feet from each other.
Items such as menus and condiments will be required to be disinfected after each use, and buffets, salad bars and self-serve beverage stations will be prohibited.
Restaurants will be required to erect physical barriers for workers at cash registers, bars and host stands.
State Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said restaurants will take reservations. Diners who pull up only to find their table isn't ready should wait in their cars for the restaurant workers to contact them.
Some of the guidelines outlined will need to be followed by both dining and retail establishments. For example, restaurant and retail workers will be required to undergo daily temperature and COVID-19 symptom checks. Workers exhibiting symptoms will be sent home. Workers will have to wear face coverings at all times and gloves will be required when handling food and utensils to customers.
And in both restaurants and retail, touchpoints such as credit card machines and keypads will be required to be frequently sanitized.
Murphy’s daily COVID-19 news conference was filled with good news on several fronts, not the least of which was the slowing of the state's unemployment numbers.
For instance, while the re-opening of restaurants, bars and non-essential retail businesses promises to put some New Jerseyans back to work, the state saw its eighth consecutive decline in unemployment claims last week.
There were about 27,000 new filings for unemployment benefits for the week ending May 30, marking a 25% drop from the previous week.
The spread of COVID-19 also continued to drop across the state.
A chart posted during Murphy’s news conference showed that there were no new hospitalizations in the northern and central parts of New Jersey.
Murphy was dubious of the accuracy of those numbers, saying he suspected a “data issue.” But still, the state is reporting 603 new positive cases of COVID-19 – far below the mid-April surge when that number sometimes topped 4,000 daily.
A newer indicator the state has been tracking, the rate of transmission, shows that one person on average infected more than five others at the beginning stages of the pandemic in March. The most recent data shows that one person on average will infect .85 others.
It’s unclear if the recent rallies spurred by the death of George Floyd will cause those numbers to spike, but Murphy said the protests around the state have remained peaceful.
State Police Superintendent Col. Pat Callahan said there were plans today across New Jersey for 19 more protests spurred by the May 25 death of Floyd, a black man, who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd's neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed face down in the street.
Derek Chauvin faces second-degree murder and manslaughter charges and three fellow cops are facing charges stemming from the incident. All were immediately kicked off the force.
Murphy also announced the news that the state Assembly passed a measure he had been seeking that gives the state the authority to seek $5 billion in bonds.
In the middle of a revenue shortfall stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, Murphy said the state might have had no choice but to lay off some 200,000 police, fire, EMS, education and health care personnel.
Murphy called that scenario "the devastation of our front-line workers."
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