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June 29, 2020

New Jersey will not allow indoor dining at restaurants ahead of Fourth of July weekend

Concerns about people following COVID-19 safety protocols and spiking numbers of cases of the disease elsewhere factored into the decision

Restaurants Coronavirus
New Jersey indoor dining Sandra Seitamaa/via Unsplash

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has stopped the plan to allow restaurants and bars to resume indoor dining. It had been scheduled to be allowed, with COVID-19 safety protocols in place, starting July 2. No new date has been set.

Indoor dining at New Jersey restaurants and bars will not be permitted to resume Thursday, as had been planned, Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday. No new date has been set for its return.

The number of people seen not wearing face masks and not practicing social distancing at crowded Jersey Shore restaurants and bars in recent days is one reason Murphy cited for holding up the plan. He said the rise in COVID-19 cases in other states – partly due to the resumption of indoor dining – also is a factor in the decision.

"We have been cautious throughout every step of our restart," Murphy 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."

Food and beverages, as well as smoking, are now banned from being consumed within the indoor premises of any retail, recreational, or entertainment business. That includes casinos, as Borgata announced on Monday that it will not reopen until indoor dining resumes across New Jersey.

While the governor said the majority of New Jersey restaurants have followed the state's COVID-19 safety protocols for employees and customers, he also warned that noncompliant establishments and customers will not be tolerated.

"The carelessness of one establishment can completely undo the good work of many others," Murphy said. "They are the ones who ruin it for everyone else."

The return of indoor dining at reduced capacities had been included as part of the second phase of New Jersey's three-step reopening plan for coronavirus pandemic. It had been set to resume at 25% capacity ahead of the July Fourth holiday weekend. Since June 15, outdoor dining has been allowed.

New Jersey's COVID-19 health and safety guidelines for indoor dining at restaurants and bars includes spacing tables 6 feet apart, and keeping groups seated at bars 6 feet apart, too. Customers must order and consume food and drinks while seated, and only wait staff can bring food and beverages to customers.

Diners will be required to wear face coverings indoors when not seated. Visitors who don't wear a face mask should be refused service, according to the state's rules. People with a health issue or who are younger than 2 are not required to wear a face covering.

New Jersey's move to slow down its reopening process comes after another weekend where bars appeared crowded at the Jersey Shore, a scene that was illustrated by reporter Josh Axelrod. He recorded video and took photos inside several Jersey Shore bars, including Donovan's Reef, a popular spot with an outdoor bar in Sea Bright, Monmouth County, where he described and showed customers standing close together and no one wearing masks.

Twitter users posted photos and video from inside D'Jais in Belmar, Monmouth County that show an even more crowded scene.

New Jersey reported an additional 156 confirmed coronavirus cases on Monday, increasing the state's total number of cases to 171,272. The statewide lab-confirmed death toll due to the virus rose to 13,138 after New Jersey recorded 18 new deaths on Monday. 

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