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Back to the Bar, Buffett as NJ Loosens COVID Rules on Restaurants, Events

NBC New York logo NBC New York 5/4/2021 Dan Stamm
A customer is seen sitting at the bar talking to an employee at Spirit Lounge on November 09, 2020 in Edgewater, New Jersey. © Getty Images

A customer is seen sitting at the bar talking to an employee at Spirit Lounge on November 09, 2020 in Edgewater, New Jersey.

What to Know

  • New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is easing many COVID restrictions in New Jersey both indoors and outside as daily coronavirus cases have been trending downward and the state gets closer to its vaccine goal.
  • Indoor dining, bar service, buffets and outdoor gathering limits are among the changes in the coming days.
  • To date, more than 3.26 million people in New Jersey have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus as daily cases decline.
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Get served a drink and eat all you want while serving yourself food.

Starting this weekend, you can walk up to the bar to order a drink and grab your own food from a casino buffet again in New Jersey as Gov. Phil Murphy relaxes COVID-19 restrictions. And, in the coming days more people will be able to dine indoors and gather outside.

Murphy announced "big steps" at his Monday COVID-19 news conference that the restriction on indoor bar service at restaurants, taverns and bars will be lifted Friday.

Self-service food at buffets, casinos and restaurants can also resume Friday.

Then on May 19 assuming the numbers don't backslide, New Jersey -- in accordance with New York and Connecticut -- plans to eliminate any capacity restrictions for indoor dining -- currently at 50% -- given that parties can be seated 6 feet apart.

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The cap on outdoor gatherings will be lifted entirely, but social distancing requirements will remain in place.

“This means that the events that we all associate with summer, from fireworks displays to parades to the state fair, can all go forward, as long as attendees keep 6 feet of distance,” he said.

Here is the timetable for easing of restrictions. Murphy noted that masking requirements remain in place for all indoor activities when not drinking or eating.

On Friday, May 7

  • People can begin to saddle up to bars again. It will be up to restaurant and bar owners to prevent people from congregating at the bar and to adhere to the 6-feet distance rule or put up petitions between parties.
  • The restriction on buffets and other self-service food at restaurants will be lifted. Indoor dining rules will remain in place for masking when not eating or drinking at your table.
  • The effective date for the increase of capacity at outdoor events to 500 people and the increase of indoor capacities for weddings, proms and other events up to 50% capacity to 250 people that was set for next Monday will now go into effect Friday. Dance floors can be open for weddings this weekend.

On Wednesday, May 19

  • The outdoor gathering limit will be lifted. "Current mask requirements will remain in place," Murphy said. People must continue to remain distanced from each other.
  • The 50% capacity limit on indoor dining will be removed. Groups must still be seated at least 6 feet apart. The prohibition on tables of eight people or more will be removed.
  • The 50% capacity for indoor and outdoor businesses "currently governed by percentage-based cap will be lifted." Religious services, retail establishments, gyms and fitness clubs, personal care businesses, indoor and outdoor amusement and recreational businesses, and indoor and outdoor pools are among those places that will no longer by capped as long as there is 6 feet of distance between people and groups, Murphy said.
  • Indoor capacity for large venues -- with 1,000 or more fixed seats -- can increase to 30% as long as there is 6 feet between ticketed groups.
  • The general indoor gathering limit will increase from 25 to 50 people for events like birthday parties.
  • The indoor gathering limit for catered events, funerals or memorial services, performances, political activities and commercial gatherings can increase to 250 people without a percentage cap. Indoor conferences, expos and trade shows will also be capped at 250 people.

Now, employers will need to find the workers needed to reopen at expanded capacities.

Murphy said that enforcement will remain in place and businesses that don't comply could face punishment.

COVID Cases Down as More Vaccines Are Given

The announcements came as daily COVID-19 cases in the Garden State decrease and more people get vaccines.

"The steps announced today are the most aggressive steps we have taken to reopen to date," Murphy said Monday. "We feel confident we can do this safely because our numbers have trended decisively in the right direction over the last three weeks."

With more than 3.26 million people 16 and older fully vaccinated, New Jersey is getting closer to Murphy's goal of having around 4.7 million adults vaccinated by the end of June.

But there is work to do as Murphy noted while announcing Operation Jersey Summer to reach the vaccine goal amid vaccine hesitancy.

"We are putting into overdrive our work to hit our initial target of 4.7 million vaccinated New Jerseyans by June 30th," Murphy said.

Part of the push to get people vaccinated includes giving people (21 and over) a free drink as part of the "Shot and a Beer" program that will give people getting a first vaccine dose in May a free beer at some Garden State breweries.

The state is also partnering with religious leaders for the “Grateful for the Shot” program that Murphy said is "an effort that will make it possible for congregants to go directly from religious services to vaccination sites."

Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said she expects the state to reach its 4.7 million vaccinated goal.

To date, New Jersey has reported more than 876,000 PCR test-confirmed coronavirus cases and nearly 23,000 deaths confirmed to be from COVID-19 complications. However, on Monday, the daily case count had dropped to around 880 and the most recent rate of transmission was down to 0.37, while the positivity rate had dropped below 5%, showing a slowing trend in cases.

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