©istockphoto.com/Drazen Zigic

Restaurants have been especially hard hit during the pandemic, but there’s finally a bit of good news. Since September, restaurants and bars have been limited to 25 percent capacity for indoor dining. They’ve also been required to close by 10 pm for indoor service. But that will change on Friday, February 5th, just ahead of the Super Bowl.

Governor Murphy announced today during his press briefing that he will carefully and responsibly allow restaurants and bars to expand indoor dining reservations and seating to 35 percent, beginning at 8 am on Friday. “I feel confident in signing this order because of the recent trends in our hospitals and our rate of transmission,” said Murphy. “While some of the numbers are still high, we believe we can make this expansion without leading to undue, or further stress to our healthcare system.”

“I’m proud that we’ve been able to protect our restaurants from the rollercoaster of openings and closing that other states have had to implement,” continued Murphy. “We have been consistent in our approach. Because we opened indoor dining responsibly, we have never once had to reduce capacity. Now because of your compliance, we can further expand indoor dining.”

Governor Murphy announced he will also lift the statewide 10 pm curfew in place for indoor dining. But municipalities and counties can put in their own restrictions and regulations on in-person dining after 8 pm. “This approach gives local officials the ability to respond to unique situations where they are noticing non-compliance,” Murphy adds.

The prohibition at sitting at indoor bar areas is still in effect, due to the close proximity of patrons, bartenders and servers.

Casinos, gyms, barbershops, and other personal care businesses will also be allowed to operate at 35 percent of capacity.

The executive order will also cover indoor gatherings, such as religious ceremonies/services, wedding ceremonies, political activities and memorials services or funerals. Those functions will be allowed to operate at 35 percent of their capacity, as long as a gathering doesn’t exceed 150 individuals. Audience capacity for performance venues can also increase 35 percent, with a crowd no greater than 150 people.

All public health protocols are still enforced, so you’ll need to wear a mask indoors (except while eating and drinking) and sanitation and hygiene/social distancing rules still apply.

To date, NJ has had 631,309 positive PCR COVID cases and 74,498 Antigen (rapid test) COVID cases. There have been a total of 19,560 lives lost in NJ due to COVID, with 52 deaths reported today.