WEST ORANGE, NJ — With New Jersey restaurants permitted to serve patrons indoors up to 25 percent capacity beginning on Friday, the West Orange Township Council held a COVID-19 Business Owner Seminar Zoom meeting on Tuesday in advance of the reopenings.

Tuesday of this week also marked the day that gyms could open their doors--also with copious restrictions. The reopening of gyms, restaurants and movie theaters come after New Jersey Gov. Murphy announced permission on Monday for them to resume operations.

"We are excited the state is allowing restaurants to reopen," said West Orange Mayor Robert Parisi, one of many township officials attending Tuesday afternoon's Zoom seminar.

Sign Up for West Orange Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

"Indoor dining will be permitted beginning at 6 a.m. on Sept. 4," said West Orange Health Officer Theresa DeNova. "A lot of the indoor practices are the same as they are for outdoor dining."

DeNova said that there will be a limit of eight people to a table for indoor dining unless everyone at the table is a member of the same family. All tables must be situated at least six feet apart.

"Don't walk around much once you are seated, and try to wear a mask as much as possible" unless a person is eating or drinking, DeNova said.

New Jersey State Assemblyman John McKeon (D) of the 27th Legislative District was also on the call.

"The New Jersey transmission rates (for COVID-19) are much better than where we had been," McKeon said, "(but) we are all flying without a net now, and if transmission rates go back up or we see other (negative data), we might be faced with taking a step back."

On the other hand, McKeon suggested that if the data does not take a turn for the worse after several weeks of reopening under these guidelines, the state might be able to expand capacity allowances for indoor dining, gyms and performance venues.

"Scientists say that with these precautions taken, we should be OK ... and the percentage (of patrons allowed indoors) could go up soon if this goes well," McKeon said. "We can only hope for better days ahead."

Two months ago, Murphy had announced that restaurants and gyms could reopen on July 2 ahead of Independence Day weekend, only to renege on that announcement days before it was to go into effect. Many businesses incurred losses by preparing for that reopening only to have the Governor change course before the target date after citing rising infection rates in other states that had reopened indoor dining prior to that date.

A bipartisan bill has been approved by a New Jersey Senate Committee that would reimburse restaurants, bars and caterers for money they spent on supplies preparing for indoor dining's return in July, only to be told that indoor dining will not happen then. The reimbursements would be funded by appropriating $30 million to the Economic Development Authority from federal block grants allocated to the state from the CARES Act. The EDA would then provide direct financial support, by way of loans or grants, according to the bill. The Senate voted for the bill, 38-0, and the Assembly, 77-0.

West Orange Township Council President Michelle Casalino said that the local government would be there to assist businesses any way possible.

"The township is dedicated and wants to be a working partner in assisting our business owners through these challenging times," Casalino said earlier this summer.  

"We know you're hurting," Casalino said to business owners on Tuesday, "and we're just going to keep plugging away and do what we can for you."