How many people can be inside New Jersey's restaurants, gyms and other indoor businesses is set to increase next week as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have remained lower.
Starting Friday, March 19, restaurants, amusement venues, gyms, fitness clubs, barber shops, salons and personal care businesses will be permitted to have up to 50% capacity, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Wednesday. The indoor dining capacity is currently capped at 35%.
Bar seating still isn't permitted, Murphy said.
The easing of restrictions and expansion of indoor activities and dining comes as the cap on indoor personal gatherings also goes up. Starting March 19, the limit for indoor non-religious and non-political activities goes from 10 to 25, the first-term Democrat said.
Outdoor gatherings on March 19 can go up from 25 to 50 people maximum.
The state's coronavirus figures have been tracking in the right direction, Murphy said, although hospitalizations ticked up slightly this week.
"We feel confident in the steps announced today given the data we’ve been seeing over the past five weeks," Murphy said. "On Feb. 5, when our restaurant capacity last changed, our hospitals were treating nearly 2,900 patients. That number has come down by 1,000 and been consistent since then."
"While the numbers of new cases we report daily can fluctuate, and some days can be high, we believe that, when all factors are weighed, we can make this expansion without leading to undue further stress on our health care system," Murphy said.
Murphy doesn't want people to let their guards down, even as thousands more people get the coronavirus vaccine each day.
The statewide mask mandate in public places remains in effect, Murphy said.
Wednesday marked one year since New Jersey reported it's first COVID death, Murphy said. Since then, more than 21,000 people are confirmed to have died from COVID-19 complications, while another nearly 2,500 people are presumed to have died from the virus.
Nearly 730,000 PCR test-confirmed cases have been reported in New Jersey during the pandemic.