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Gov. Phil Murphy. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

State to suspend most gathering limits later this month

By Nikita Biryukov, May 03 2021 3:52 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy announced the broadest loosening of virus restrictions to date in a Monday announcement that’ll see all capacity limits on outdoor gatherings lifted later this month.

Starting May 19, outdoor gatherings will be free of capacity limits. They’re currently limited to 250 persons and were set to increase to 500 on May 10. That increase will now happen on May 7, when bar seating and buffets will be allowed in the state for the first time in more than a year.

“With our COVID-19 numbers, particularly hospitalizations, trending decisively in the right direction and our vaccination goals within reach, now is the time to take major steps to reopen our economy and loosen both indoor and outdoor gathering and capacity restrictions,” he said. “We’ve done this the right way, in partnership with our neighboring states of New York and Connecticut, and by allowing data, science, and public health to guide our decision-making.”

Outdoor gatherings must still be socially distanced, and masks must be worn when distancing is not possible.

Percentage-based capacity limits on indoor dining will also disappear on May 19, though tables must still be six feet apart or separated by dividers. Similar restrictions for other indoor and outdoor businesses subject to a 50% capacity limit will also be lifted on May 19. There too, social distancing is still required.

The limit on indoor general indoor gatherings will increase to 50, from 25, on May 19, when indoor limits for catered events, funerals, performances, political activities and commercial gatherings will increase to 250 individuals.

Percentage-based limits on gyms, retail businesses, houses of worship, personal care services, amusement businesses, pools will also disappear on May 19.

Large indoor venues, defined as venues with 1,000 or more fixed seats, will be allowed to operate at 30% capacity on the later date, while the limit for similarly sized outdoor venues will increase to 50% on May 7 instead of May 10.

Indoor catered events will also see looser restrictions announced last week a few days earlier. Capacity for such events will increase to 50%, up to 250 persons, on May 7. Starting May 19, the percentage-based limit will also disappear.

The move came coupled with a new campaign to boost vaccinations as the state nears its goal of inoculating 4.7 million residents by the end of June.

That campaign will see increased availability of walk-in appointments, a vaccine awareness campaign that’ll include door knocking and municipal-level vaccine data, among other things.

The state will partner with religious leaders in an effort to get congregants vaccinated after services. It’ll also partner with local breweries to get free beer to people who get their shot.

The announcement was met with measured celebration from the state’s business community, one that has long called on the governor to drastically ease virus restrictions.

“Today is a huge move in the right direction, but there remain many issues that need immediate attention in order to ensure a swift and sustainable recovery,” New Jersey Business and Industry Association President and CEO Michele Siekerka said. “We look forward to continuing to work with the Governor and our policymakers to make this happen.”

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