New Jersey Starts Stage 2 as Critics Blast Reopening Pace; Gov Heckled on Live TV

New Jersey's next step comes exactly one week after New York City's initial reopening; a number of businesses have been cited for violating reopening protocol and Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned regions he would roll back reopenings if local governments don't enforce compliance

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What to Know

  • New Jersey entered Stage 2 of Gov. Phil Murphy's "Road Back" plan on Monday, opening outdoor dining and nonessential in-person retail; personal care businesses like salons and massage parlors open June 22
  • Murphy told "TODAY" Monday he was comfortable with the pace of the state's reopening even as a number of businesses argue to move faster; he was heckled on the boardwalk for most of that interview
  • New Jersey's Stage 2 step comes exactly one week after New York City's initial reopening; a number of businesses have been cited for violating reopening protocol and Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned regions he would roll back reopenings if local governments don't enforce compliance

New Jersey entered Stage 2 of Gov. Phil Murphy's reopening roadmap Monday, opening up outdoor dining at all times of day or night, in-person retail and child care services with restrictions in place to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread.

Libraries also reopen for curbside pickup starting Monday, while drop-off and pick-up services resume at New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission locations. Full MVC service, including road tests, is expected to return later in June. All employees who can work from home are asked to continue doing so.

New Jersey has struggled on core metrics intermittently over the last month, at times leading the nation on new virus deaths and hospitalizations per 100,000 residents. As of Monday, the state was second and fourth among U.S. states on those metrics, respectively. Still, that's an improvement over recent weeks.

Team coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

New Jersey now has one of the nation's lowest transmission rates as well as one of its most robust testing programs, according to Murphy. More than 1 million coronavirus tests have been administered in New Jersey in just over 100 days.

"This is a big day. We’re doing outdoor dining today – all retail, not just essential. Day care is opening. We’ve got barbershops and hair salons next week. We're slowly but surely getting back on our feet," Murphy said Monday.

In Point Pleasant Beach, customers turned out to The Shrimp Box, a popular seafood restaurant on the same waterway where commercial fishing boats unload their catch. Barbara White of Howell Township was first in line to be seated when the restaurant opened for lunch.

“I did a Sun dance so the clouds would go away and we'd get some sunshine — and it worked!” she said, tucking into a plate of seafood and mixed greens. “Good food, nice atmosphere, some fun — this is what everybody needs right now.”

George Gyftakis, the restaurant's owner, was counting on the start of outdoor dining to revive his business, which struggled for months while still keeping its dozens of workers on the payroll with little money coming in.

“Takeout really didn't work for a business like this,” he said. "People want to be outside, looking at the boats, smelling the ocean breeze with their friends.

Outdoor dining reopens in Red Bank Monday, the first day the state is permitting restaurants to resume al fresco as part of its entry into Stage 2. (Photo credit: R.C. Staab)

Asbury Park had threatened to defy Murphy's order and open up for indoor as well as outdoor dining, but a judge ruled in favor of the governor this weekend. On Monday, restaurants in the town joined others around the state in hosting outdoor-only dining.

Asbury Park Mayor John Moor told MSNBC Monday that the city had done what it could to help struggling restaurants, like waiving fees for cafes, but said the current reality can't last much longer. Moor said "I don't even want to picture" what the city, heavily supported by tourism during the summer months, could look like in September if the reopening doesn't move along more quickly.

Jersey Shore restaurants weren't the first to challenge Murphy's reopening process. Some huge malls have pressed to reopen in Stage 2, which allows in-person retail but only at small indoor locations, not large shopping centers.

Murphy told "TODAY" Monday he was comfortable with the state's reopening timeline it and didn't want to rush it, for fear of inciting a viral resurgence he fears could happen at some point anyway. The governor, who was heckled during most of his interview on the boardwalk, said he's primarily concerned about indoor activities than outdoor ones. He recently raised the crowd caps for both types of gatherings and expects to do so again before graduations resume next month.

"Indoor environments where it’s challenging to wear masks – such as gyms – or where people remain sedentary for long periods of time – such as restaurants – remain the most dangerous in terms of transmission," Murphy said Monday. "We were the second hardest-hit state in America. Over 12,600 fatalities. We've got to be very careful about opening up things up that are inside, lack of ventilation, close proximity. There's no question we'll get there, we're just not ready yet."

In the meantime, Murphy urged New Jerseyans to stay smart and be patient as the process moves forward. He outlined more of that timeline this weekend, announcing a return date for personal care services like hair salons, barbershops, massage parlors and other businesses. Those shops can reopen a week from Monday, on June 22, the governor said.

Those reopenings will be subject to certain safeguards as well, including limiting services to appointment-only, conducting temperatures checks on staff, requiring the use of face coverings or masks at all times, maintaining 6 feet of distance between all "staff-client pairs" unless separated by a physical barrier, as well adopting enhanced cleaning and disinfection practices.

Also on June 22: low-risk sports can resume competition and medium- and high-risk sports can start non-contact drills and practices, Murphy said Monday. He expects competition for medium-risk sports to resume on July 6, with full practices and competitions for high-risk sports hopeful to return by July 20.

Day camps are permitted to reopen on July 6, the same day socially distant graduations can resume. Murphy has yet to make a call on sleepaway camps, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office announced late Friday would be closed this summer. (Here's a full list of what's open, and reopening, across the tri-state.)

New Jersey's move to Stage 2 comes exactly one week after New York City's initial reopening. Some New York City businesses (and New York City residents) have been a bit cavalier with the reopening protocol. Sneaker and clothing stores in Brooklyn's Sunset Park neighborhood, for example, were allowing customers to browse in-store, which is strictly prohibited until a region moves to Phase II.

There were also widespread reports of people congregating on curbs and in outdoor dining areas across Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn over the weekend. Of more than 25,000 business reopening violations statewide, Cuomo said a disproportionate number of complaints were in Manhattan. The Hamptons also saw a vast number of violations, the governor said, and he warned regions that he would roll back reopenings if local governments don't enforce compliance.

While other states have seen COVID-19 spikes amid reopening, New York has maintained its progress in fighting back the disease. Cuomo added 25 more deaths to the toll Monday, the lowest number since the pandemic hit except for the 23 he noted the day before. None of the state's 10 regions has a daily COVID testing positivity rate higher than 1.4 percent (Western New York). New York City's stood at 1.3 percent Monday, compared with 59 percent at the crisis peak.

Daily Percentage of Positive Tests by New York Region

Gov. Andrew Cuomo breaks the state into 10 regions for testing purposes and tracks positivity rates to identify potential hotspots. Here's the latest tracking data by region and for the five boroughs. For the latest county-level results statewide, click here


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