HOLMDEL, NJ - What a difference a weekend makes. Governor Murphy has begun a wide-ranging lift on COVID-19 restrictions in New Jersey according to his press conference today. He has been under tremendous pressure by elected officials across the state to reopen New Jersey. Presumptive Republican Candidate for Governor, Jack Ciattarelli, has repeatedly called on Murphy to reopen New Jersey. Murphy stated that politics did not have any impact or drive his decision-making.

An Executive Order is moving up reopening on Friday, May 7th - increase outdoor gathering to 500, indoor capacity to 50% up to 250, dance floors reopened at private catered events and outdoor capacity for large venues with 1,000 capacity and fixed seats to 50%.

Stated Murphy, "We have been fully expecting to be able to take additional steps to relax regulations as more people are vaccinated and the weather warms up and so long as all the vital metrics continue keep moving in the right directions as they have.  Today, in coordination with Governor Andrew Cuomo in New York and Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont, we are ready to announce the next date for this further expansion so long as we do not see any change or backtracking on our current path."

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"So, with that, here is where we anticipate being on Wednesday, May 19.  First we anticipate completely removing the limit on outdoor gatherings - instead of a hard cap on attendance we will simply require that all attendees in any outdoor event keep social distances of at least 6 feet and current mass requirements will remain in place."

"This means that the events that we all associate with a summer from fireworks displays to parades to the state fair can all go forward as long as attendees are keeping 6 feet in distance and should the CDC as I mentioned a minute ago revise it 6 foot distancing work guidance, we will revise our requirements accordingly. I have no inside knowledge here my guess is that 6 foot number will come down assuming the nation continues to make progress. Next up at our restaurants again this is all effective May 19 we will remove the current 50% capacity limit and allow restaurants to operate of whatever capacity allows them to continue to ensure a minimum 6-foot distance between groups - this will bring indoor dining in line with the current requirement for outdoor dining which is never had a hard capacity limit but has always been based on table spacing we will also be removing the prohibition on tables of eight persons or more tables may be spaced closer than 6 feet if DOH (Department of Health) compliant partitions are in use. For other indoor settings are businesses currently governed by a percentage based cap - religious services, retail establishments, casinos, gyms and fitness clubs, personal care businesses, indoor and outdoor amusement and recreation businesses and indoor and outdoor pools - the current 50% capacity limits will be lifted and be replaced with the same requirement as I just mentioned - a minimum of 6 feet of social distance between individuals and groups."

"We are also substantially revising our indoor gathering limits - the general indoor gathering limits - most of which applies to house parties and other purely social events such as a birthday party - will be doubled from 25 to 50 people. For catered events, funerals or memorial services, performances and political activities which are currently limited to 50% of a room's capacity up to a maximum of 250, the percentage capacity will be scrapped. This means that these events will simply be limited to a maximum of 250 people so long as social distancing can be maintained. We are also stating that gatherings overseen by commercial entities whether they be conferences, expos or trade shows will also be subject to the higher 250-person limit and to accommodate even larger endured gatherings for which 250 people would be insufficient, whether they be sporting events or concerts or the like, we are stating that all large rather indoor venues with a thousand or more fixed seats can operate at 30% while maintaining the requirement the particular groups remain at least 6 feet apart - and  a reminder that for all indoor activities our current requirement that everyone wear a facemask except when eating or drinking is unchanged."

"These steps will take effect in two weeks from this Wednesday on the 19th so long as and again this is an important footnote so long as we do not see a backslider our metrics."

"Our numbers have trended decisively in the right direction over the past three weeks - 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 and while our COVID numbers are going down there is one thing we could do above all else to ensure that these numbers keep going down, especially as we reopen further, and that is to get vaccinated.

"Every single activity that we just discussed is substantially safer if you are vaccinated than if you are unvaccinated." Stated Murphy.

While many New Jersey residents have decided on their own to move beyond the pandemic, visit the Jersey Shore to see the busy boardwalks, Murphy's rule changes put the government and the people in closer alignment as the state moves to normal life post pandemic.