TRENTON, New Jersey (WPVI) -- 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, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday.
This announcement was made in coordination with the governors of New York and Connecticut, he said.
Effective Wednesday, May 19:
Restaurants will no longer have a capacity limit but will be able to operate at whatever capacity allows them to continue to ensure a minimum six-foot distance between groups.
For other indoor settings or businesses currently governed by a percentage-based cap - religious services, retail establishments, gyms and fitness clubs, personal care businesses, indoor and outdoor amusement and recreation businesses, and indoor and outdoor pools - the current 50% capacity limits will be lifted and be replaced with the requirement a minimum of six feet of social distance between individuals and groups be maintained.
Murphy said the general indoor gathering limit, which applies to house parties and other purely social events, such as birthday parties, will be doubled from 25 people to 50 people.
For catered events, funerals or memorial services, performances, and political activities, which are currently limited to 50 percent of a room's capacity up to a maximum of 250 people, will be limited to a maximum of 250 people so long as social distances can be maintained.
For indoor sporting events or concerts, all large indoor venues with 1,000 or more fixed seats can operate at 30%, while maintaining the requirement that ticketed groups remain at least six feet apart, Murphy said.
"A reminder that for all indoor activities, our current requirement that everyone wears a face mask except when eating or drinking is unchanged," Murphy said.
New Jersey will also remove the limit on outdoor gatherings.
"As a musician it's great," said Vahe Sarkissian of Collingswood. "I can actually work, and all these festivals that we would normally have in the summertime can actually still be on."
Instead of a hard cap on attendance, Murphy said the state will require that all attendees at any outdoor event keep social distances of at least six feet and current mask requirements will remain in place.
"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 are keeping six feet of distance. And should the CDC revise its six-foot distancing guidance, we will revise our requirement accordingly," Murphy said.
Murphy also announced that some reopening steps that were set for Monday, May 10 have been moved up to Friday, May 7:
That includes increasing the outdoor gathering limits to 500 individuals, increasing indoor room capacities to 50 percent up to 250 individuals for political gatherings, weddings, funerals, memorial services, and performances, and reopening dance floors at private catered events and increasing capacities at large outdoor stadiums and venues with more than 1,000 seats to 50 percent of capacity.
"We feel confident in moving up this timetable by three days, given the accelerated progress we are seeing in our vaccination program and hospital metrics, and lower daily case counts," Murphy said.
NJ will also lift the prohibition on indoor bar-side seating.
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According to Murphy, the Department of Health is currently finalizing its guidance, but all impacted restaurant, tavern, and bar owners should be prepared to ensure proper social distancing between patrons at their bars - either 6 feet distancing between groups seated at the bar or physical partitions.
"We are counting on restaurants and bar owners to enforce this guidance and prevent congregating at the bar, as we have warned all along that those situations present a high danger of allowing the virus to spread," Murphy said.
At the Central Taco on Haddon Avenue in Haddonfield, managers are happy about the announcement.
"The bartenders are really excited, they'll have faces at the bar. One of the great things about being a bartender is to have those people in front of you," said bar manager Caitlin Ricci.
Indiya restaurant in Collingswood said people have been calling and asking when their buffet will reopen.
"We used to be really busy on weekends, weekdays because everybody likes the buffet. They can try a lot off different items," said Jay Palacharla, who works at the restaurant.
For smaller restaurants, operators say it won't make a whole lot of difference.
"It's still going to be 50% for us. The table set up that we have now is what we have until unfortunately people can be closer than 6 feet," said Christine Gunning, manager at The Pop Shop in Collingswood.
Also, effective Friday, New Jersey will lift the prohibition on buffets and other self-service foods at restaurants.
"Again, full guidance is being finalized but we will likely maintain the current limitations requiring food and drinks to be consumed while seated. Additionally, if you are not seated at your table while eating or drinking, you will continue to be required to wear a mask," said Murphy.