Murphy defends delay of indoor seating at restaurants, bars


TRENTON — After a backlash from restaurant and bar owners, Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday defended his decision to indefinitely postpone the reopening of indoor seating.

He had announced last week that indoor seating with 25 percent capacity limits could begin on July 2 in time for the July 4th holiday weekend. But he backtracked on Monday, citing fear of surging  COVID-19 infections in other states, as well as “knucklehead” behavior in New Jersey bars that offer outdoor service.

Reporters attending the governor’s press briefing on Tuesday said restaurateurs are devastated by the reversal, which cost them thousands of dollars spent preparing and buying supplies for their reopening. The owners want the state instead to crack down on “bad actor” establishments that have allowed crowding and not enforced social distancing rules, they said.

“We want to get back on our feet. Believe me, we would like to be full-bore open. We’re just not there yet,” Gov. Murphy said. “We’re trying to stay one step ahead of this virus. 

“It isn’t either/or … It’s both. It isn’t just the knucklehead behavior. It is the disturbing amount of growth of this virus … from indoor locations in other states. Indoors, this is a whole different thing, in terms of its lethality. We need compliant, proper behavior but we have to aggressively prevent situations that we know are conducive to this virus,” he said. 

“This weekend, there was a lot of disturbing data, nationally, that we saw. Overwhelmingly, it was coming from indoor activity,” that was sedentary, in close proximity and lacking ventilation, he said. 

Gov. Murphy said that other businesses that have been allowed to open, such as barbers and nail salons, have a more limited capacity, with Plexiglas barriers between individual customers, who must wear face masks at all times, which can’t be done when eating or drinking.

“Why would we not want restaurants open other than we’re trying to save lives?” Gov. Murphy  said. “I have enormous sympathy for the challenges our restaurateurs are going through, and the thousands of dollars I don’t take lightly for one second. But there’s also 15,000 lives that we’ve lost and we’re trying to save every single one going forward.”

He said delaying reopening also gives the state more time to slow the virus spread.

“The more time we have on the clock to drive the transmission down, the less likely we are to have community spread,” he said.

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