TRENTON, NJ -- Although he planned to loosen restrictions on indoor dining in New Jersey on Thursday, July 2, Gov. Phil Murphy announced at his daily COVID-19 press conference Monday that 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. We’ve always said that we would not hesitate to hit pause if needed to safeguard public health. This is one of those times. 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 Murphy, who announced 18 new COVID-19 related deaths and downward trends of key measures on Monday.

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"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.”

Minority Leader in the New Jersey State Assembly Jon Bramnick, a Republican, 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."

Restaurateurs react

"After losing money during the first week and second week being open, this is a horrible blow," said Sean Flannery, owner of Sheelan's Crossing, who survived hospitalization due to the coronavirus. "I don't know how much more restaurants and bars will be able to take."

"It's disappointing. A couple of bad apples have spoiled the bunch. It's unfair to us who have complied with the guidelines," said Joe Mortarulo, owner of Darby Road in Scotch Plains and Houdini Pizza in Fanwood. "It's a shame that a few bad owners ruined it. We were ramping up here. Now, I have to tell people who just came off unemployment, that now they have to go back on it again." 

"There's no conversation (about reopening) and no real date," Mortarulo added. "It's terrible."

"Scotch Plains, over the last month, has averaged less than one case per day. For the governor to do one-size-fits all decision is outrageous," said Scotch Plains Mayor Al Smith. "These businesses can't take much more of this. We local officials, mayors and boards of health, need more flexibility based on our local situations."

“I’m actually kind of relieved with the decision,” said Lillian Pien, owner of Akai Lounge, a Japanese restaurant on East Broad Street. “A lot of my staff had hesitation about working if we were to open indoors.”

Pien said she originally planned to delay indoor dining for a few weeks due to her employees’ concerns.

“I am actually really glad the governor made this decision,” she added. “It’s tough and it certainly doesn’t help business, but safety comes first. It should always be first.”