TRENTON, NJ — Gov. Phil Murphy today delivered a double-dose of reopening news, announcing that seating at bars and restaurant buffets will return on May 7, and all outdoor gathering limits and indoor capacity caps on most businesses will be lifted on May 19. However, he made it clear that social distancing and face mask rules will remain in place.

“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,” Murphy said during his May 3 coronavirus press briefing. “Today, in coordination with Gov. Andrew Cuomo in New York and Connecticut Gov. 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."

Nearly 7.2 million coronavirus vaccines have been administered in New Jersey, with 3.2 million individuals now fully vaccinated, according to the New Jersey COVID-19 Dashboard. Murphy's target is to have 4.7 million people who live, work or study in the state fully vaccinated by June 30. 

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In addition to allowing barside seating and buffets and other self-service food at restaurants on May 7, Murphy also is moving up reopening step included his last executive order that was to take effect on May 10, which included increasing outdoor gathering limits from 200 to 500 persons, and increasing capacity at certain outdoor and indoor venues and for indoor catered events (see below):

On May 19, all outdoor gathering limits will be dropped, but social distancing and mask rules will remain. “Instead of a hard cap on attendance we will simply require that all attendees in any outdoor event keep social distances of at least six feet, and current mask requirements will remain in place," Murphy said. "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 six feet in distance.”

If the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should reduce its six-foot social distancing guidance, “we will revise our requirements accordingly,” he added. “I have no inside knowledge here. My guess is that the six-foot number will come down assuming the nation continues to make progress.”

Also on May 19, indoor businesses that include restaurants and bars will no longer be required to limit capacity to 50%. However, maintaining six feet of distancing between individuals or groups must still be followed, except at tables where partitions are used. Additionally, the prohibition on tables of more than eight persons will be lifted.

“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,” Murphy said.

The 50% capacity limit will also be lifted for houses of worship, retail businesses, gyms, barbers and salons, indoor and outdoor amusement and recreation businesses, and indoor and outdoor pools.

For indoor catered events, funerals, memorial services, performances and political activities, the 250-person limit will remain in place, but there will be no percentage-based capacity restrictions.  Individuals and groups will still need to remain six feet apart, with masks worn.

Also, the capacity limit for indoor large venues will increase from 20% to 30% and the definition of a large venue would shift from those with 2,500 fixed seats to those with 1,000 fixed seats. The requirement that individuals or groups of individuals that purchase tickets together remain six feet apart would remain in place.

Click here for the full text of Executive Order 238.

Below is Gov. Murphy's May 3 press briefing: