TRENTON, NJ -- Roxbury restaurants that set up tents recently for outdoor dining, assuming it would be a very temporary way to get back to business, might be using them for longer than they anticipated.
Although he planned to loosen restrictions on indoor dining in New Jersey on July 2, Gov. Phil Murphy announced today he will delay the reopening. He provided no timetable of when indoor dining -- even at reduced capacity -- would resume.
Murphy pointed to packed crowds at outdoor bars and restaurants -- with people not wearing masks and ignoring social distancing -- as reasons for postponing the return of indoor dining indefinitely.
"We have been cautious throughout every step of our restart," he said. "We’ve always said that we would not hesitate to hit pause if needed to safeguard public health. This is one of those times."
'He Should Have More Faith'
State Sen. Anthony Bucco, (R-25) who represents Roxbury and serves as the township's lawyer, said the governor should be more trusting of his constituents and not punish all restaurants for the bad behavior of several.
"I'm obviously disappointed with his decision to roll back the opening of inside dining and I'm disappointed that it comes so close to a point where many of these restaurants have taken the measures to do it safely and on such a big weekend for restaurants all over the state," Bucco said. "I think the governor needs to have a little faith for the restaurant owners to do the right thing."
Bucco said the majority of restaurants were being very careful to limit crowd size and maintain distance. Those who weren't should have been dealt with individually by local authorities, he said.
"We know there have been some violations out there," he said. "We know it's not a perfect world. Most people, if they are going to go out to dinner, they want to go out and do it safely. If people go to a restaurant and the restaurant isn't maintaining social distance and the waitstaff aren't wearing masks, and they don't feel comfortable, they're not going back."
In Roxbury, at least ten restaurants began serving food outdoors under tents recently when the township granted them permits after Murphy said outdoor dining was OK. They include Anthony & Sons, Anthony Francos Pizza, Fuddruckers, Rose's Luncheonette, Roxbury Diner, TGI Fridays, Muldoons, IHop, Java Joe's and Bryan's.
Murphy pointed to increases in coronavirus infections elsewhere as supporting his decision.
"After COVID-19 spikes in other states driven by, in part, the return of indoor dining, we have decided to postpone indoor dining indefinitely," said the governor while announcing 18 new COVID-19 related deaths and downward trends of key measures on Monday.
"We have enormous sympathy (for small business owners) but the alternative is worse," Murphy said. "Keeping up the fight is even more important now to prevent us from backsliding."
“We have seen spikes in other states driven, in part, by the return of patrons to indoor dining establishments, where they are seated, and without face coverings,” he said. “We are also moved to take this step because of what we have seen in some establishments across the state.”
State Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, also a Republican who represents the 21st District, was quick to speak out.
"I am very disappointed that the governor, without any consultation of the elected legislature, stopped reopening of indoor dining scheduled for this Thursday," said Bramnick via Twitter. "This should not be decided by one person. No transparency, no discussion and no debate."
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