TRENTON — Outdoor and indoor gatherings and events all are seeing their capacities increased to 50% nearly across the board, with restrictions, Gov. Phil Murphy announced on Monday.

Murphy said this announcement would set the new "floor" from which the state would raise more restrictions "substantially" in the weeks to come.

Limits on outdoor gatherings will be more than doubled, from 200 to 500 people, Murphy said at the state’s pandemic response briefing, a day after teasing a “major announcement” on Twitter a day earlier.

Indoor private events with catering, such as proms, weddings, and performances will be increased to a 50% capacity, up to a maximum of 250 people. That’s up from current limits of 35% up to 150.

Indoor religious services have a 50% capacity limit with no ultimate cap on attendees.

Dancing also will be allowed at private catered events, with masking and social distancing in place, under the guidance, as there had been murmurs of a dancing ban at proms reminiscent of the plot of ‘80s movie, “Footloose.”

Outdoor capacity limits also will be increased to 50% for venues with 1,000 fixed seats or more, with six feet of distance between groups that are together.

Currently, outside venues like MetLife Stadium have been capped at 30% capacity.

All the increased limits would go into effect as of May 10.

Outdoor carnivals and fairs also would be permitted to operate at 50% capacity, as of the same date.

As of Monday late morning, 4.1 million people had been given at least one vaccine dose, while 2.82 million were fully vaccinated statewide.

There also were 1,797 COVID-19 patients hospitalized as of Monday, and the rate of transmission (rT) was at .90, the governor said.

These were “the first set” of announcements in what he hoped would be a series of such rollbacks, he added.

As of Monday, no change was announced to indoor dining, which remained at 50% capacity, "at the moment," the governor said. Murphy pointed out that there was no capacity limit on outdoor dining, other than space constraints for social distancing between dining groups.

He has repeatedly said that pandemic restrictions should be rolled back “incrementally,” instead of being removed all at once.

“We pride ourselves in not lurching. In other words, opening up a capacity and then going back. We haven't done it once” Murphy said a week earlier at the April 19 state briefing.

The state policy on outdoor masking also remained the same since last year, the governor said.

"If you're outside and you cannot socially distance you need to wear a mask. If you're outside and you can socially distance, you don't need to wear a mask," he noted, adding that indoor masking remained a requirement.

Just ahead of the announcements, Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce of Morris County was the latest republican to urge the governor to allow graduations and proms to resume in June without severe restrictions.

“I think it’s time to lighten up on the restrictions and let families decide how they want to celebrate their children’s graduations and let our children enjoy the proms that will create a lifetime of memories for them,” DeCroce said in a written statement.

She pointed to the increasing vaccination rate. “For more than a year, state officials have been wagging their fingers at people and treating them like children. I believe it is time to treat our citizens like adults,” DeCroce said.

A growing number of state lawmakers, including some of Murphy's fellow democrats, have been calling for the state to reopen more fully and for the governor to put an end to his executive orders under the state of emergency declaration that's been renewed 14 times.

"I think the governor's done a very good job of managing the pandemic. It's a no-win situation. No matter what decision you make you're not going to make anyone happy. It's now time to start partnering with the administration, with the governor on legislative actions," State Senate President Steve Sweeney previously said to New Jersey 101.5 in late March.

More than 100 business associations last week delivered an open letter to the governor, asking for a comprehensive reopening plan with specific benchmarks and dates.

“After over a year of the pandemic restrictions, businesses continue to reel: the number of small businesses open as of March 22 was down 38.4% relative to January 2020,” according to the New Jersey Business Coalition in its letter, sent around the same time that Connecticut announced it would be removing remaining business restrictions as of May 19.


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