TRENTON — Smoking inside Atlantic City's casinos won't be allowed after all as restaurants reopened on Friday, Gov. Phil Murphy said.

Murphy announced the about-face during a COVID-19 news conference in Trenton.

“We’ve looked closely at the science and agree with the experts who have concluded that allowing smoking is too big a risk to take," he said.

The governor had signed an executive order reopening restaurants Friday from their coronavirus pause. The order would have permitted smoking at casinos as well.

On Thursday, state Sen. Declan O'Scanlon, R-Murphy, criticized Murphy for having allowed casinos to permit smoking.

"I don’t care what anyone thinks about smoking indoors at casinos in normal times–whatever your position might be–but the idea that the Governor would allow this NOW during a pandemic is ludicrous," O'Scanlon said in a written statment.

“We are in the middle of a pandemic where we are trying to do everything in our power for people not to forcibly exhale without a mask around others. But that is exactly what smoking is! Even Pennsylvania, one of the few states that still allow smoking in a casino, has temporarily banned it due to face-covering regulations. And they did this while also allowing for indoor dining–proof that you can do both, expand indoor dining while temporarily banning smoking at casinos.”

Friday was the first time indoor dining has been permitted in the state since March. Restaurateurs must limit capacity to 25% and require masks be worn by staff, and diners who aren't seated at a table.

The number of positive cases climbed by nearly 500 overnight, Murphy said, putting the total at more than 193,000. The death toll climbed by 7 to 14,195.

The rate of transmission ticked up slightly from just below 1 to 1.03. The rate measures the number of people an infected person passes the virus to and is a key metric Murphy has cited in reopening decisions. The goal is to keep it below 1, he has said.

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