NJ ending limit on outdoor gathering, cap on indoor dining

TRENTON, New Jersey -- New Jersey will lift all COVID-19 outdoor gathering limits and remove a 50% capacity limit on indoor restaurants and bars beginning on May 19 as long as social distancing can be maintained, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday.

Murphy said the state's positive coronavirus trends have enabled the state to make the change.

"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.

Murphy also announced that relaxed restrictions slated to take effect on May 10 will now apply on Friday, three days earlier.

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New Jersey will lift many COVID-19 capacity limits at retail stores, restaurants, gyms and other businesses - and will remove a hard cap on outdoor gatherings - beginning May 19.

Those changes include increasing the outdoor gathering limits to 500 people, raising indoor capacities to 50% up to 250 individuals for political gatherings, weddings, funerals, memorial services and performances. Privately catered events will also be permitted to have dancing.

Murphy, a Democrat seeking reelection this year, will also remove a prohibition on tables of eight people or more. Tables can be spaced closer than 6 feet if partitions are used.

Also done away with is a 50% capacity limit for religious services, retail, gyms, saloons and amusement businesses. Instead, Murphy said, the state will require a minimum of 6 feet of distance between people.

The indoor gathering limit will also be doubled from 25 people to 50 people, the governor said.

Establishments will be allowed to serve patrons at the bar, which was something they petitioned for, Murphy said.

Face masks indoors will still be required except when eating or drinking, he said.

RELATED: New Jersey residents can get free beer after first vaccine shot this month

Murphy said he expected the federal government to lower the 6-foot distance requirement, but added that he had not "inside knowledge."

The changes come as positive COVID-19 tests over the last two weeks have fallen by more than 40%, and as the state vaccinates more people. So far, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 37% of the state's adult population has been fully vaccinated.

That's higher than the 31.6% of the country overall.

Murphy has promised to get 70% of the adult population fully vaccinated by June 30. Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli has said the state would meet that goal.

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Starting May 19, capacity limits will be lifted for many businesses, including indoor dining - as long as people or groups can be 6-feet apart.

The changes that go into effect on May 19 were done in coordination with New York and Connecticut.

The relaxed requirements are contingent on the state's coronavirus figures not back sliding, he added.

Also on Monday, as part of an effort to boost vaccination demand, he announced that about a dozen breweries across the state will offer people a free beer if they bring their vaccination card in showing they got the their first shot in May.

The state's six mass-vaccination sites will also no longer require appointments.

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