New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday said he will not allow restaurants to reopen for indoor dining this week as originally planned, following spikes of coronavirus cases in other states that have reopened on a more aggressive timeline.
"We must hit pause on the resumption of indoor dining, which was to resume this Thursday," Murphy said during his daily briefing in Trenton. "Given the current situation in numerous other states, we do not believe it is prudent at this time to push forward, in effect, with what is a sedentary indoor activity."
The timing of Murphy’s announcement came as New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo said New York City may delay allowing indoor dining amid signs it poses a risk of spreading Covid-19. It also came the same day New Jersey’s indoor malls were allowed to reopen, but with restrictions.
Murphy said he made his decision after seeing spikes in other states that have loosened coronavirus restrictions like indoor dining. Arizona, Florida and Texas, three of the states that recorded some of the biggest increases in Covid-19 cases over the last two weeks, reopened indoor bars and restaurants in May.
Another factor, Murphy said, was reports of patrons overcrowding restaurants that have reopened for outdoor dining in New Jersey.
“We have all seen the scenes. Overcrowding, a complete disregard for social distancing, very few if any face coverings,” Murphy said, while noting t are “many more” establishments that are following the rules. “We cannot move forward unless t is complete compliance — it only takes one. The carelessness of one establishment can completely undo the work of many others.”
Murphy also said he based his decision on the fact the virus "moves differently" indoors than it does outside, "making it even more deadly."
Research has shown the highest risk of infection comes from people who gather in large crowds indoors, particularly if they’re not wearing masks. Outdoor gatherings are believed to pose less of a risk.
Murphy did not say when he would allow indoor dining to resume.
“We have been cautious throughout every step of our restart, and have said we will not hesitate to hit pause to safeguard public health,” he said. “It brings me no joy to do this, but we have no choice.“
Senate President Steve Sweeney, a political rival of the governor's, sounded skeptical of Murphy's plans to hit "pause" on the state's reopening timeline. Casinos are still slated to reopen July 2 at 25 percent capacity on July 2, but if bars and restaurants in the gaming facilities remain closed, those plans may not be viable.
Sweeney said Murphy’s decision could force some gaming establishment to put off their reopening plans.
“Who the hell would go to a casino if you can’t get a dinner and a drink?” Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said during a press conference after the Senat’s voting session on Monday. "It’s unworkable.”
"We’re seeing problems around the country, seems like a lot of it in bars. I’m going to want to find out what the administration’s thoughts are," he said.
Sweeney, along with many of the state's Republican leaders, spent the better part the last two months pushing Murphy to hasten his reopening timeline, citing actions taken by other states and improvements in New Jersey's public health data.
While many of those metrics have improved, including hospital capacity and daily case totals, others have begun to drift into worrisome territory, Murphy and other health officials noted in recent weeks. The rate of transmission — a measure of how many people an infected person passes the virus to — stood at 0.86, up from 0.70 just two weeks ago, the governor reported on Monday.
"We've been able to keep this increase in check, but we know that we also can quickly lose control of this virus and keeping this number from going higher remains a top priority," Murphy said during Monday's briefing.
Meanwhile, in New York, de Blasio and Cuomo say they are seriously considering nixing the reopening of indoor restaurants and bars for fear of a spike in cases.
“The most important thing is to keep us healthy and safe, and not allow a resurgence,” de Blasio told reporters Monday. “The facts have been worrisome. In the course of this week, it got worse and worse around the country. It got worse and worse with this nexus to bars and restaurants.”
Sam Sutton contributed to this report.