NEW JERSEY — New Jersey’s much-anticipated wait for indoor dining looks to be over and just in time for Labor Day.

On Friday after nearly five months, restaurants will once again be able to serve indoors while following coronavirus limits, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday at his press briefing at the George Washington Ballroom in Trenton. 

“I know that it has been hard on many of you. The restaurant industry is not only a huge employer in our state, but New Jersey is home to many notable dining establishments that draw patrons from all over the country...and our goal has always been to get to yes,” Murphy said this afternoon. 

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“Our job now is to ensure that this reopening only leads to future announcements, expanding the indoor capacity limits and that we do not have to take a step backward. We will be watching very closely," the governor continued. "We will not tolerate any owners or managers or diners for that matter who...try to work around these rules."

The state says it will also lift restrictions on breweries, distilleries, indoor performance venues and movie theaters. An increase on indoor gatherings will take effect as well (to less than 25% capacity or 150 individuals) for religious services, political activities weddings, funerals and memorial services.

Indoor dining rules that will be in place (bulleted below) include spaced-out tables and the wearing face masks by staff and customers while not eating.

State Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said she hopes outdoor dining will continue wherever possible as it continues to be a safer alternative.

“As the state moves to permit limited indoor dining with restrictions, it is essential that all of us take precautions, so we do not see a rise in outbreaks like those that have occurred in other states,” Persichilli said. 

Murphy said that any customer who refuses to wear a mask and does not have medical reasoning for doing so, will not be permitted to eat indoors. While not mandated, he also says state health officials are asking customers to keep masks on while waiting for food and drinks. 

In June, Murphy announced that indoor dining would return July 2. A week prior to that he called it off citing health data — sending many business owners reeling.

Asked today by a reporter what assurances he has this time around the governor said, “We wouldn't be taking this step today if we did not have a surprisingly high degree of confidence that will be open for business on Friday.”

Murphy pointed to over a week of rate of transmission below the key figure of 1.0 (it was .90 today), a spot positivity rate that is among the lowest in the nation and a relatively low average of new hospitalizations (about 30 a day as of late).  

Today, the Department of Health also confirmed 352 new coronavirus cases (191,960 total) and eight new deaths (14,165 total with 1,780 considered “probable” but awaiting lab-conformation). As of Monday, there are 484 patients hospitalized for the respiratory illness (231 of which are still under investigation), 103 in intensive care and 36 on ventilators. 

The governor said that he is purposefully giving the indoor dining announcement a shorter “runaway” in hopes it would mean that it goes as planned this time.

“I'll be stunned, absolutely stunned, if it does not happen,” he said. 

For movie-goers, the governor said six-feet of distance must be maintained in theaters, face masks will be required at all times unless customer is momentarily eating a snack and an overall seating capacity will be applied (lesser than 25% or 150 people).

With indoor dining — as well as indoor gyms — set to continue, a state spokesman clarified that while NJ has allowed some “Stage 3 activities” it has yet to make the declaration official.

While more details will be released, Murphy and Persichilli outlined the following indoor dining restrictions that will take effect at 6 a.m. Friday:

  • If you’re dining at a restaurant that provides table service, you will only be able to order while seated at your table

  • Only staff can bring you food or beverage

  • If you’re seated at a table, you cannot go to the bar to get another drink or place an order for a dish

  • Restaurants that provide food service at their bars may allow patrons to dine at the bar – provided that all diners are kept at proper social distances

  • Any group seated together at the bar is capped at four individuals

  • We’re mandating strict ventilation requirements:

    • Windows must be opened to ensure a proper flow of fresh air into the dining areas

    • Air conditioner units must be turned so that they’re allowing for the maximum amount of outdoor air to be introduced to the dining area

  • Restaurants must post signage at the entrance that states that no one with a fever or symptoms of COVID-19 should enter the establishment

  • Establishments should provide physical guides such as tape on the floors and sidewalks and signage on walls to ensure that customers remain at least six feet apart, in a line for the restroom or waiting to be seated

  • Restaurants are encouraged to take reservations for greater control of traffic and volume

  • Customers should wait in their cars away from the establishment while waiting for a table if outdoor waiting area cannot accommodate social distancing

  • Buffets salad bar and other self service options are prohibited at this time

  • Restaurant staff should disinfect all shared items such as chairs, condiments, menus and high touch areas such as credit card machines and counters

  • Restaurants  should provide hand sanitizer stations for customers

  • Physical barriers should be installed at cash registers, host stands and other areas where maintaining a physical distance of six feet is difficult

  • Employers must conduct daily health screenings of employees 

  • Employers should provide training for their staff and hand washing, cleaning and disinfection, social distancing, use of face coverings and monitoring for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 in the workplace

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