PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — With proms and graduations upon us and summer at the Jersey Shore just around the corner, Gov. Phil Murphy took a major step Monday toward returning New Jersey to pre-COVID-19 conditions. He announced that some restrictions would be lifted complete on May 19, and others could be eased sooner than previously announced.
"On May 19, we anticipate completely removing the limit on outdoor gatherings," Murphy said at his regular coronavirus briefing. He said all attendees or groups of attendees will still need to keep social distances of at least 6 feet, and mask requirements will remain in place.
May 19 is the magic date for a whole slate of changes, provided the state continues delivering low numbers of new COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, and vaccinations continue apace. Social distancing and masking rules will still apply.
New Jersey will remove the 50% capacity for indoor dining and other businesses governed by a percentage-based cap. Restaurants will be able to operate at any capacity which allows them to ensure the social distancing minimum, he said. Limits for casinos, stores and personal care salons will also be eliminated.
The general indoor social gathering limit will increase to 50 individuals, and indoor capacities for catered events, funerals, performances, weddings and political activities will be limited to a maximum of 250 people. In all cases, social distancing must be maintained.
Indoor capacity for venues with 1,000 or more fixed seats will be allowed to increase to 30%.
The governor also announced that the state is moving up the effective date of the steps he announced a week ago from May 10 to May 7.
"We feel confident in moving up this timetable given the accelerated progress we’re seeing in our vaccination program, hospital metrics, and daily case counts," he said.
“These are the most aggressive steps we have taken to reopen to date, and we feel confident that we can do this safely because our numbers have trended decisively in the right direction.”
Effective Friday, the state will lift the prohibitions on indoor bar-side seating and buffets and other self-service restaurants. Masks are still mandated, unless people are separated by partitions.
“We are counting on restaurants and bar owners to enforce this guidance and prevent congregating at the bars," said Murphy. "We have warned all along that those situations present a higher danger of allowing the virus to spread.”
Murphy stressed the importance of getting vaccinated as the only way to end the coronavirus pandemic.
He said that over the next eight weeks, the state will launch "Operation Jersey Summer" to do everything possible to make sure every resident of New Jersey knows that vaccines are safe, effective and easy to get.
The campaign will include a public service campaign with television ads, phone calls, targeted e-mails and a campaign with faith leaders to convince people to receive their vaccines immediately after religious services. The state will also be encouraging walk-in appointments at the state megasites.
Murphy is even using the promise of free beer. The "Shot and a Beer" promotion will allow anyone at least 21 years old who gets their first dose of the vaccine this month to take their vaccination card to a participating brewery for a beverage.
Murphy, last week, was hinting that changes would be coming.
"COVID numbers keep going down in the right direction. ... And as long as the vaccinations continue to be supplied by the feds and taken up by our residents, we’re gonna be able to open this place up and have a great Jersey summer," Murphy said on Friday.
He reported 1,077 new daily COVID-19 cases, but pointed out that the figure was four times higher just one month ago. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention also said there were more than 3,000 new cases reported in 46 out of the 61 days in March and April. New Jersey officials say nearly 3.1 million residents have been fully vaccinated. The goal is to reach 4.7 million adults by the end of June.