New bumps in the road as NJ considers more indoor dining
For the past several weeks, as the weather has started to turn cooler, Gov. Phil Murphy has been suggesting indoor dining capacity could soon be increased from the current maximum of 25% of capacity to perhaps as high as 50%.
But with the number of positive coronavirus cases on the rise in the Garden State, the issue has suddenly become clouded.
During his latest COVID-19 update Monday, Murphy once again said there is no evidence to suggest the resumption of limited capacity indoor dining has contributed to the rise in COVID cases. But on Monday, there were 1,192 new cases reported — a continuing recent trend of more than 1,000 a day.
“These numbers are sobering, I have to say," Murphy said. "So we are war-gaming a whole lot of potential steps that we can take, whether it’s indoor or outdoor or both dining without adding to our rising numbers.”
In his "Ask the Governor" appearance on News 12 later that night, Murphy said his "guess is no at this point."
"I'm concerned that we send mixed messages, which we cannot afford to do right now. These numbers are really sobering right now,”
At his briefing, the governor said “we not only have to help our restaurants, but we’ve got to, I think, be consistent in the plea for responsibility among citizenry.”
Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso on Twitter called Murphy out on his comment, as he's repeatedly said he doesn't see evidence indoor dining is contributing to recent spikes in numbers.
“WHY, WHY, WHY are we punishing our restaurants? They are already suffering,” she wrote.
Murphy said Monday night he's eaten indoors at restaurants himself a few times since indoor dining was allowed to resume. He said he's eaten outdoors at restaurants "40 or 50 times."
Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said Monday “now is the time to double down on social distancing, wearing face coverings and good hand hygiene.”
She said as the weather gets colder, activities including restaurant dining, are increasingly moving indoors — and “the risk of transmission increases."
"The trajectory of the next few months will be determined by all of us now," Persichilli said.
The governor said to stop the rise in new COVID cases, “we gotta do everything we can, I know this sounds silly, but we gotta stay outside as much as we can.”
He said he didn't want to "lurch backward" after announcing an increase in indoor dining capacity" — just because there’s too much investment, too much planning involved.”
The governor has already lurched backward once before, drawing complaints from a stretched-thin industry that said uncertainty and last-minute rule changes wasted restaurants' time and money. Limited capacity indoor dining originally had been given the verbal go-ahead for July 2, but three days before that, as COVID cases began to spike sharply across the country, Murphy abruptly announced it would be delayed.
Murphy on Monday also vetoed legislation that would have reimbursed restaurants $30 millions for their preparations in July.
Murphy also said changes to indoor gathering limits in homes and for religious services was also “on the table," however no decisions at this point have been made.
— Additional reporting by Dan Alexander
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.