Just in time for Labor Day Weekend, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced the re-return of indoor dining statewide and, for the first time since the pandemic's shutdown, the return of movie theaters and other indoor performance venues.
"Let's end the summer not only enjoying it, but responsibly as you've done all summer long," Murphy said at this daily coronavirus briefing Monday.
The sudden offering of pre-pandemic activities comes with its own set of restrictions: principally, all indoor activities must be capped at the lesser of 25% capacity or 150 people.
With a rush of changes to New Jersey's reopening plans, let's take a look at what is available this Labor Day weekend.
Earlier this summer, Murphy made the unexpected decision late June to halt what was supposed to be the next step in the state's reopening plans.
Now, months later, news finally came that restaurants would be allowed to reopen just in time with strict requirements and limits on capacity that the state looks to reinforce.
"This resumption of indoor dining will come with strong limits on capacities as well as other requirements, which will be strictly enforced," Murphy said during his coronavirus press briefing.
An updated list of safety protocols for indoor dining was detailed by the governor Monday, which include:
- No more than 25 percent capacity; parties capped at eight;
- Maintain six feet distance between tables;
- Staff must wear masks at all times;
- Diners must wear masks when they are not in their seats;
- Food and beverages can only be consumed while seated
- Any customer who refuses to wear a mask, except for legitimate medical reasons, cannot be seated indoors;
- If you are dining at a restaurant that provides table service, you will only be able to order your food while seated at your table. “Walking around with a drink indoors will not be tolerated,” Murphy said. In other words, a customer cannot go to the bar to get another drink or place an order, but rather they "must allow your server to place and deliver those orders;"
- Restaurants that provide food service at the bar may allow dining while maintaining social distancing.
The governor noted Monday that although limited indoor dining will resume by the end of the week, outdoor dining will still continue.
"We have been working hard for several months now to get to this point and after the pullback from our initial early July target date we committed that we would not put ourselves in a similar position again and that we would not allow for indoor dining to resume until we had confidence that we would move forward," Murphy said. "I am proud that we are doing this today so that our restaurants can welcome patrons to their dining rooms for the long holiday weekend."
Catch a Show
Indoor performances, of varying kinds, are allowed back for the very first time since March. It's the first step in New Jersey toward reviving the state's entertainment industry.
The reopening of cinema screens in the Garden State coincides with the U.S. release "Tenet," one of the summer's most highly anticipated films. The Christopher Nolan directed feature opens Thursday after several delays due to the hesitancies of reopening theaters in states battling high infection rates.
It's not yet clear if movie theaters, both smaller arthouses or large chains, have enough time to open doors by this Friday.
Once theaters are ready to reopen, they'll be subject to the same indoor COVID safety protocols mandated by the state for all indoor venues. For movie theater auditoriums, capacity is still capped at 25% or 150 people, whichever number is lower, no matter the screen size.
Major theater chains AMC and Regal opened doors in most states nearly two weeks ago, each with enhanced safety measures. It's best to check with your local theater about their updated COVID protocols before purchasing tickets.
The definition of "indoor performance venues" wasn't immediately clear - whether it included nightclubs or other such businesses.
Workout in a Gym
Days before the holiday weekend starts, gyms reopen their doors on Sept. 1.
Murphy made the long-awaited gym announcement last week, two days after gyms in neighboring New York were permitted to reopen under strict guidelines. The New Jersey reopenings will also come with clear restrictions:
- Group fitness classes limited to 1 person per 200 square feet
- Mandatory masks at all times for patrons and staff
- Contact logs for members and staff for tracing purposes in the event of an outbreak or other COVID exposure concern
- Six feet between equipment; intense equipment sanitizing protocol
"Gyms are among the most challenging indoor environments to prevent COVID-19 transmission. But, given where we are in this fight, we believe we are ready to take the next step forward," Murphy said at the announcement.
Of course, there remain countless outdoor activities that can be enjoyed over the holiday weekend. Check out the list of activities and services already back open since the start of the pandemic.