TRENTON — All bars and restaurants will have to stop indoor service by 10 p.m. nightly; and interstate, indoor sports will end for youth teams under several new restrictions announced Monday by Gov. Phil Murphy in response to skyrocketing COVID-19 infections.
“We remain in the midst of a global pandemic. Our country is recording more than 100,000 cases per day. We have to snap back into reality – this virus hasn’t gone away, and it is posing its greatest threat to us in months,” the governor said.
He said that Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told him in a conversation over the weekend: “We’re in a six-month race to the finish line.”
But the governor said the new limits in New Jersey will be “surgical,” unlike the broad statewide lockdown imposed in the spring.
The new rules take effect Thursday morning, Nov. 12, just two weeks before the start of the holiday season on Thanksgiving. The Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, when many college students return home, traditionally is one of the biggest bar nights of the year.
No indoor dining will be allowed between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. at restaurants, bars, clubs and banquet halls. New Jersey casinos also will also be restricted from serving food and alcohol after 10 p.m., although gaming may continue overnight.
Indoor barside seating will be banned, because of a rise in infections among bargoers and bartenders, although seating at tables in bars will be allowed, the governor said.
By way of example, state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli noted an outbreak at Leggett’s Sand Bar in Manasquan.
“At least nine bartenders and servers got COVID in this setting … We put out an alert and I will read it to you: The New Jersey Department of Health would like to notify the public of a potential COVID-19 exposure at a Monmouth County bar and grill … Then, we went on to identify anyone who visited Leggett’s Sand Bar between the dates of Oct. 17 and Oct. 21 may have been exposed to COVID-19. The Monmouth County Health Department is actively investigating these exposures. They conducted a site visit on Oct. 23rd, and the restaurant is cooperating. This is just one example. It is happening,” Ms. Persichilli said.
Gov. Murphy said the reasoning behind the earlier closings at bars is that “There is more than anecdotal evidence that as the night wears on, for reasons that are obvious, people let their hair down … Folks are not distancing as they should. Even when they are seated, there just isn’t the same level of compliance and care.”
Outdoor dining, takeout and delivery services may continue past 10 p.m.
Indoor dining is limited to 25 percent capacity. Restaurants may place tables closer than six feet apart only if separated by barriers.
New rules also will allow outdoor tables to be set closer than six feet apart, as long as fully enclosed “bubble” barriers are erected to separate group tables. Each must be cleaned and sanitized between uses.
YOUTH SPORTS RESTRICTIONS
The governor said virus spread among youth hockey players has prompted new interstate restrictions.
“It is simply not safe for teams to be crossing state lines at this time to participate in indoor competitions,” the governor said.
Elementary, middle and high school teams may play any New Jersey team in indoor sports, but may not play out-of-state teams, according to the new rules. The new restrictions do not affect outdoor sports, or college or professional sports.
Gov. Murphy had warned on Thursday that he would be imposing the new restrictions in order to tamp down the recent second pandemic surge; New Jersey has seen the highest level of positive case since the peak in late March and early April.
On Saturday, state health officials reported 3,207 new positive cases, which was the highest number since April 27; and 11 new deaths. On Sunday, 2,043 new cases and four more deaths were reported.
Monday, with 2,075 new cases in New Jersey, marked the fifth straight day with more than 2,000 new cases. There were 11 new deaths reported on Monday, bringing the state’s death toll to 14,640.
Gov. Murphy also commented on Pfizer pharmaceutical company’s promising announcement Monday that its COVID-19 vaccine appears to be more than 90% effective in clinical trials.
“We are in a six-month window where we got to battle against the COVID fatigue,” the governor said in an interview, regarding the Pfizer clinical trial results. “It doesn’t change us in that window but, boy, it is really, really good news in the longer term.”
New Jersey’s health commissioner thinks the first batch of COVID vaccine from the federal government will be enough to inoculate 50,000 people in the state, the governor tweeted Monday, but he noted that the state currently has 500,000 people in its category of high-priority workers in line to receive the vaccine.
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