We do not know when life will return to normal in the Garden State, or even a "new normal" as Gov. Phil Murphy has been fond of saying, but what New Jerseyans most want to do as soon as that happens is to see and interact normally with friends and family, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

"It's really all about getting to hug or kiss a loved one, craving that kind of human connection with friends and with family members, that New Jerseyans and I'm sure citizens across the entire country really miss," said Ashley Koning, director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University.

In the survey of more than 1,500 New Jersey adults taken from late April to early May, 20% said the first "normal" thing they would do is reconnect with loved ones. About 1 in 6 responded either "go to a different place" (17%) or "do a different activity" (16%), and just over 1 in 10 (12%) said they would first want to go out to eat.

Some of those options are now becoming possible. Gov. Phil Murphy lifted New Jersey's stay-at-home order on Tuesday, and restaurants will be able to offer outdoor dining starting Monday.

As for other types of activities, Murphy's expansion of indoor gathering limits, also announced Tuesday, was designed to give a green light to the resumption of worship services. New Jersey beaches were allowed to open for the summer as of Memorial Day weekend, albeit also with limited capacity.

"New Jerseyans simply want to do things like go to the beach, they want to take a vacation, they want to go to the park or go to church, they want a haircut or to go to the gym," Koning said.

The reopening of gyms and health clubs will also be part of Stage 2 of New Jersey's recovery strategy, but Murphy has not yet specified a target date for those businesses. Salons and barbershops (including nail salons, something Murphy clarified on Tuesday) are reopening Monday, June 22.

Coming in a distant fifth in the survey was getting back to work (7%), although Koning said those numbers were unsurprisingly elevated in several demographic groups.

"We see that non-white residents, about 1 in 10, millennials 1 in 10, and those in the lowest income bracket, 15%, they actually all say that the first thing I want to do when life is normal is return to work," she said.

The poll also asked how New Jersey residents were handling the unpredictability of the pandemic and the way it has changed life in the Garden State, and 29% responded that they were doing "great." About 1 in 5 (22%) said they were content, and 8% were OK.

For another 1 in 5, they replied with a more negative response: scared, anxious, annoyed, tired, or angry.

Still, Koning said, people are hungering to get back to many of the things they did regularly just three months ago.

"We've seen in our other polling that obviously there's apprehension and there's still worry around the virus, but that doesn't mean that New Jerseyans aren't craving these simplistic measures and human connection," she said.

One thing all demographics agreed upon is that, when asked to say something to healthcare workers and first responders on the front lines of the pandemic, the words that first come to mind are "thank you."

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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