Murphy Administration criticized by NJ businesses for ‘random’ COVID rules
As the warmer months approach in Year 2 of a pandemic, New Jersey business and nonprofit leaders are begging for more clarity and freedom from the Murphy Administration in the way of coronavirus restrictions.
Concerned owners and operators claim that New Jersey's current rules related to capacity and public safety are random and illogical, and offer absolutely no glimpse into what may be permitted in late spring and summer.
"Outdoor gathering capacity must take usable square-footage and event logistics into consideration, versus an arbitrary number," said Michael Chait, president of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce. "We ask that the administration trust the event experts that know how to control density, duration and egress."
Chait, event director for the Atlantic City Airshow, made his comments Thursday during a virtual town hall hosted by the New Jersey Business Coalition.
"The live events industry is hanging by on a thread and needs additional support and guidance," Chait said.
The airshow is slated to take place on Aug.18. As of Friday, general outdoor gatherings are capped at 50 individuals. The event attracted more than 500,000 people to Atlantic City in 2019.
In early February, Gov. Phil Murphy told New Jersey 101.5 sister station WPG that events such as beach concerts and the airshow aren't out of the question, as long as the Garden State meets its COVID-19 vaccination goals.
Jersey Shore Partnership, a not-for-profit organization that advocates for beach protection funding, is going ahead with its planning for a June 28 outdoor event that would typically attract hundreds of people. They're doing so, however, with no guidance from officials, according to Executive Director Margot Walsh.
"Nowhere in the mix is the mention of outdoor nonprofit fundraising networking events," Walsh said. "We are looking to the governor for clarity as he moves on to address indoor activities and bypasses outdoor events such as ours."
Indoor capacity at businesses such as restaurants, gyms, casinos jumps to 50% on Friday. Higher limits exist both indoors and outdoors for political events and religious services.
Because event planning takes months in many cases, operators say they can't use a "wait and see" approach.
"Right now as we make plans for the outdoors, we're capped at 50," said Adam Philipson, CEO of the Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank. "We know from the seemingly strange and random decisions on capacity that are being made, that this is not being guided by science. Because if this were scientific, then it would be systematic."
Philipson said his industry should at least be able to abide by a percentage cap, similar to restaurants, and not be tied, for example, to 150 people max indoors.
"And for outdoor, with social distancing and CDC guidelines, there should be no cap," he said.
As of Thursday night, the Murphy Administration had not responded to a request for comment.
Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.