TRENTON — Gov. Phil Murphy is urging local authorities to crack down and take a zero-tolerance approach to bars and restaurants that disregard pandemic regulations.

Murphy on Wednesday applauded Jersey City, which cited The Factory Restaurant and Lounge for allowing hundreds of people inside this weekend without masks.

Indoor dining is still not allowed in New Jersey. Murphy on Monday backtracked on a plan to allow indoor dining to resume at limited capacity starting Thursday, citing increases in COVID-19 cases elsewhere in the country.

New Jersey, which was one of the hardest-hit states with more than 13,000 deaths, is now doing better than most of the county at controlling the spread. Murphy and health officials have cited the state's aggressive social-distancing rules and widespread compliance by residents and businesses as a reason for the success.

New Jersey on Thursday is allowing casinos, outdoor amusement and water parks, museums, libraries, bowling alleys, batting cages, shooting ranges and arcades is to reopen. Gyms can also reopen for individual appointments only.

Republicans in the opposition and many business leaders have called on Murphy to allow restaurants to reopen. But Murphy and Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli on Wednesday — citing White House coronavirus task force expert Anthony Fauci — said that sitting at a bar or restaurant is one of the most dangerous activities during a pandemic and that a quick reopening could risk undoing the state's progress.

"Even one knucklehead bar can ruin it for everyone," Murphy said. "It only takes one match to start a wildfire and it only takes one infected bargoer to ignite a COVID-19 flare-up that then shuts everything else back down."

States in the South and West that waited longer before imposing shut-down measures or lifted restrictions sooner are now dealing with flare-ups, which Fauci this week said threatens to add 100,000 new cases every day. The United States, by far, has the highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the world.

Persichilli said that indoor dining does not compare to shopping malls, which have high ceilings and better circulation. Shoppers also are wearing masks and typically spend less time indoors. At bar and eateries, on the other hand, ceilings are lower, people are not wearing masks while eating and drinking and patrons tend to linger or mingle — which the state's health regulations do not allow even in outdoor dining situations.

In Michigan, a restaurant was linked to 100 cases and a Memorial Day weekend house party in Cape May resulted in 14 cases of college-age Pennsylvania tourists.

Murphy said that gyms, like bars, are one of the most dangerous places.

"We will get there," he said Wednesday. "This is not a life sentence. But we will get there based on the data and health metrics and when we know we have absolute compliance by dining and drinking establishment that have been allowed to open for outdoors."

Indoor dining also remains off limits in New York, Philadelphia and Delaware. In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday signed an order requiring everyone to wear masks whenever they leave their homes.

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Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email

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