FREEHOLD, NJ — With summer at its halfway point, Monmouth County Freeholder Director Thomas Arnone is imploring Gov. Phil Murphy to reopen restaurants for indoor dining “before it’s too late.”

Since Murphy pulled the plug on the start of limited indoor dining on July 2, food and drinking establishments have been doing their best welcoming customers outdoors since June 15 — creating dining spaces on sidewalks, parking lots and even streets during the summer of COVID-19.

However, the sweltering temperatures this month has not made it an easy task, in addition to the fact that many restaurants and bars have not been able to offer this option, relying only on take-out and delivery service.

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“While I understand the concern for public health, the facts show that restaurants are proving that they are capable of providing a safe environment for their customers,” Arnone said in a statement.

“Outdoor dining has been open since June 15 and there have been no outbreaks among customers at any of the establishments — not one. This clearly demonstrates that our business community understands the consequences of not adhering to the safety guidelines. They are working diligently and taking every precaution to ensure the safety of their patrons,” he said.

Further elaborating on his statement during a July 29 press conference, Arnone said he wants the county to be able to set its own rules and guidelines for indoor dining, based on its own coronavirus data — apart from the current statewide approach.

“It’s time to have the faith in our business owners and start having a systematic plan to open these indoor businesses,” he said, referring to all businesses, such as gyms, that remain closed to the public.

Acknowledging there has been clusters of COVID-19 spread, particularly among younger adults in recent days, “it seems unfair to punish our dining establishments for the irresponsible behavior of those having social gatherings in private homes, which have led to outbreaks,” he said.

Even with the influx of out-of-state visitors to Monmouth County, particularly to shore towns like Belmar, Arnone said he doesn’t believe many are staying in town for a long period of time.

He pointed to the results of the first 500 COVID-19 tests performed since testing centers opened in the county’s most densely populated, higher-risk municipalities. Only seven came back positive, according to county officials. 

“As I have said many times, restaurants need to be allowed to open their doors back to their patrons before the summer is over with at least 50 percent capacity if we want them to survive,” Arnone continued in his statement. “Having goals and standards will help alleviate at least some of the stress and uncertainty that so many business owners are dealing with right now.”

While Arnone said that Gov. Murphy is aware of his stance to let counties determine criteria for business reopenings, Murphy several hours later was mum on the entire issue of indoor dining during his July 29 press briefing.