Restaurants and other businesses can operate at half their maximum indoor capacity starting in less than 10 days, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Wednesday.

The increase from 35% to 50% amid pandemic restrictions was set to take effect on Friday, March 19, for indoor dining at restaurants and bars, gyms, casinos, salons and other indoor amusement spots, the governor said.

Bar-side seating still would remain off-limits for now, Murphy said, when asked in a follow-up question during the state pandemic response briefing on Wednesday.

Retail stores already had been operating at up to 50% indoor capacity since February, under state directives.

The state’s indoor capacity for dining and personal care and other businesses was last increased roughly a month ago, up from 25% to 35% with a 150-person limit.

As for private gatherings, the state limit has been roughly doubled to 25 people indoors and crowds of 50 outdoors, with continued exemptions for political activities, religious services, and wedding ceremonies.

“I’m glad to hear Governor Murphy is following the lead of other states in raising indoor gathering limits, but it doesn’t make sense that some will be limited to 25 people while others will be at 50% of capacity,” Sen. Kristin Corrado (R-40) said in a written statement. “If larger indoor gatherings are safe for anyone, Governor Murphy should raise the limits to the same levels for everyone across the board.”

“There are many local groups and venues that have been impeded from serving their communities for nearly a year,” she continued.

“Everyone has taken precautions by now to operate safely at higher capacities. The greatest threat at this point isn’t the virus, it’s Governor Murphy driving more organizations and the vulnerable people they serve into the ground for no reason,” Corrado said.

"Any dial turns in the right direction makes us very happy. We are looking forward to more and more lifts of restrictions in the months ahead," Tommy Bonfiglio, owner and operator of Triple T Hospitality Group, said in a written response to New Jersey 101.5.

Bonfiglio has restaurants in Edison, Princeton, Freehold, Sea Bright, Clifton and Staten Island, including Tio Taco & Tequila Bar and all Tommy's Tap & Tavern locations.

Murphy’s directives were announced on the same day that Maryland rolled back similar limits.

In that state, capacity limits will be lifted on outdoor and indoor dining and businesses, while Maryland’s large outdoor and indoor venues would start operating at 50% capacity, with social distancing and mask protocols remaining in place there, according to Gov. Larry Hogan.

Pennsylvania restaurants have been open at 50% capacity since January, provided they continue certain protocols.

Connecticut also announced changes to indoor restrictions, rolling back capacity limits in stores, gyms, and other certain businesses, effective March 19. Restaurants in Connecticut would no longer have indoor capacity limits, though there is a continued eight-person table capacity and 11 p.m. required closing time for dining rooms, according to Gov. Ned Lamont.

Connecticut would continue its mask requirements and a limit on private gatherings of 25 people indoors and 100 outdoors, while gatherings at commercial venues would be capped at 100 indoors and 200 outdoors

Restaurants in New York, with the exception of New York City, will be allowed to operate at 75% of their capacity also as of March 19, up from 50%.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo also announced on Wednesday that New York City would expand indoor dining capacity to 50%, alongside New Jersey restaurants, as of March 19.

"In partnership with the State of New Jersey, we have adjusted with rigorous testing and limited capacity indoor dining openings in New York City to expand to 50 percent. We will continue to follow the science and react accordingly," Cuomo said in a joint statement with Murphy.

As of Wednesday mid-morning, the state reported 2,671,480 total vaccine doses administered. Just under 900,000 of those were second doses.

Also, for the first time the Johnson and Johnson developed vaccine (distributed under the Janssen brand) registered as 1% of all doses so far, at 9,700 shots statewide.

Moderna made up 52% and Pfizer shots were 47% of all vaccines distributed, as of Wednesday.

The number of fully vaccinated people in-state was at 919,000, based on that same data, according to Murphy.

“We are very appreciative that Governor Murphy has finally agreed to allow businesses another important reopening step. Small business owners are appreciate that the Governor is confident in these steps because the data certainly supports expanded capacity," National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) State Director Eileen Kean said in a written statement on Wednesday.

"So many of our New Jersey small business owners are barely making ends meet, so every reopening step is financially significant. Hopefully the next step to fully reopen isn’t far away,” she added.

New Jersey Business & Industry Association (NJBIA) President and CEO Michele Siekerka called the announcement "another good step in the right direction," while calling for the next increases to be made sooner, rather than later.

“Last week, the New Jersey Business Coalition issued a letter to Governor Murphy urging a comprehensive reopening plan. The letter, signed by more than 90 major business and nonprofit associations, requests definitive data thresholds to drive reopening decisions, with updated restrictions that are narrowly tailored to particular circumstances; new approaches to indoor and outdoor gathering limits; and a prudent reopening of childcare centers, which are currently in a severely disadvantaged position," Siekerka said.



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