coronavirus pandemic

New Jersey to Allow Indoor Dining, Movie Theaters to Reopen in Time for Labor Day Weekend

Indoor dining and indoor movies in the Garden State have been shuttered since the spring when the state became a hotspot for coronavirus cases

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What to Know

  • New Jersey restaurants can resume indoor dining at 25% capacity starting Friday, Sept. 4, 2020. Movie theatres can also operate at the same limits.
  • Gov. Phil Murphy said eateries must properly distance tables to ensure enough space to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
  • Indoor dining in New Jersey stopped in March as coronavirus cases exploded. Outdoor dining was allowed in June.

New Jersey restaurants will be allowed to resume indoor dining starting Friday, Governor Phil Murphy announced Monday. Movie theaters and other performance venues can also reopen with restrictions.

Restaurants will be limited to operating at 25% capacity and must adhere to social distancing guidelines between tables.

New Jersey was one of the first states to experience the sharp scourge of the COVID-19 virus when cases began spreading in the spring. To date, New Jersey has 190,971 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 14,150 deaths.

Indoor dining at restaurants and bars were shut down in the state's first wave of coronavirus pandemic closures this March. Outdoor dining in New Jersey resumed on June 15 and there were hopes for resuming indoor dining in July, but those were dashed by state health officials as coronavirus cases continued to rise.

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Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday that restaurants across New Jersey can resume indoor dining at 25% capacity starting on Sept. 4.

Speaking at a news conference on Monday, Murphy also said movie theatres and other performance venues will be allowed to reopen on Friday. They will also be capped at 25% capacity per theater. Patrons must wear masks and social distance while inside.

Religious activities, funerals and other such gatherings can increase capacity of up to 150 people or 25% capacity – whichever is the lesser.

On Tuesday, gyms and health clubs are cleared to reopen, also at 25% capacity and with a mask requirement.

The state is in the second of three stages of reopening.

New Jersey restaurants had already been cleared for outdoor dining, but Murphy had delayed reopening indoor dining, citing health concerns about the spread of the virus inside.

Murphy was under pressure from business groups and political rivals to reopen.

Michele Siekerka, the president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, said Murphy's Monday announcement was “unfortunately long overdue."

Murphy had initially said indoor dining could reopen before the July 4 holiday, but changed his mind, citing worsening figures. That decision was met with criticism, including from Siekerka, who said the state's businesses couldn't take advantage of the “prime summer season" and lost patrons to open restaurants in Pennsylvania and Delaware.

Jack Ciattarelli, a former member of the Assembly, is running for the GOP nomination for governor to take on Murphy next year. He also called the decision long overdue and said if health conditions permit, then capacity should be increased incrementally, rising to 50% by November.

Restaurants can’t make a profit on 25% capacity, said Eileen Kean, the the director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses in New Jersey, adding that Murphy should consider expanding the limit to 50% and full capacity soon.

Kaiafas, the diner owner, said he's hopeful to be at 50% capacity in three or four weeks and fully opened sometime this year.

Atlantic City’s nine casinos have also been chomping at the bit to resume indoor dining, saying the ban has seriously hurt their business.

One of the consequences of the indoor dining ban in the gambling halls is the prohibition of the traditional serving of beverages on the casino floor.

That would presumably be allowed to resume on Friday, although Murphy did not specifically mention casinos in his announcement. Still, the casinos are excited to be able to offer even limited indoor dining as the crucial Labor Day weekend approaches.

“We are very pleased to resume indoor dining this Friday allowing us to bring valued team members back to work,” said Joe Lupo, president of the Hard Rock casino. “We have seen tremendous success with our outdoor dining venues, although weather variables have been a real challenge. Opening indoor dining brings back a key amenity that our guests know, love and deserve.”

NBC10 Philadelphia/Associated Press
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