N.J. coronavirus update: State to lift most indoor and outdoor crowd restrictions in 2 weeks

People line up outside a restaurant on the Seaside Heights boardwalk

People line up outside a restaurant on the Seaside Heights boardwalk. Masks are required to get on the beach and to enter shops, and some chose to wear their masks on the boardwalk as well. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Updated: 4:15 p.m.

___

Ask us about COVID-19: What questions do you have about the coronavirus and vaccines?

New Jersey announced another 880 positive PCR coronavirus tests Monday as well as 197 new positive antigen tests, for a cumulative total of 1,000,993 known cases since the start of the pandemic.

The statewide rate of transmission was 0.37. The positivity rate for PCR tests taken on Thursday was under 4.95%.

On Sunday there were 1,424 coronavirus patients in New Jersey hospitals, including 325 in critical care and 197 requiring ventilators. Hospitals discharged 148 live patients.

Another 16 residents died from complications of COVID-19. There have now been 22,884 lab-confirmed fatalities and another 2,625 probable deaths attributed to the outbreak.

Murphy announces slate of new reopening steps

New Jersey will drop capacity limits for restaurants and other businesses and eliminate outdoor gathering caps starting on Wednesday, May 19, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday.

The major step toward reopening was coordinated with the nearby states of New York and Connecticut, which have had an on-again-off-again regional approach toward coronavirus measures since the start of the pandemic.

People will still be required to wear masks indoors, and groups inside businesses will have to remain six feet apart to maintain physical distancing.

Before Monday, Murphy had hinted at a “major” reopening announcement, which comes as the pace of new COVID-19 cases continues to decline and the number of vaccinations grows.

“These are the most aggressive steps we have taken to reopen to date,” he said, “and we feel confident that we can do this safely because our numbers have trended decisively in the right direction over the past three weeks.”

Murphy said the state would move forward with the reopenings “so long as we do not see any change or backtracking on our current path.”

Restaurants can operate at whatever indoor capacity allows them to ensure physical distancing between people and groups, Murphy said. The new policy applies to all businesses currently under a percentage capacity cap, including gyms, casinos, and personal care businesses like salons and barbershops.

Also on that day, indoor catered events, memorial services and funerals, performances, and political events can increase to 250 attendees as long as physical distancing is maintained.

The state is also moving up reopenings initially planned for next week — such as increasing outdoor gathering limits to 500 people — to Friday. Also lifted on Friday are prohibitions on indoor bar seating and self-service foods such as buffets.

Got your shot? Get a free beer

New Jerseyans who get their first coronavirus vaccine shot in May will be eligible for a free chaser under a new program announced Monday.

Thirteen Garden State breweries are participating in the “Shot and a Beer” program, which offers a free beer to anybody who got their initial dose in May and presents their vaccination card.

“We are incredibly grateful to the breweries who have already stepped up to be a part of this effort,” Murphy said. “This is coming directly from them.”

Murphy noted that he and his wife, Tammy, got their second shots of the Pfizer vaccine on Friday — the last day of April — so he would be ineligible for a complimentary brew.

“If you see me showing up, you’ll know that I’m not playing by the rules,” he joked.

Get daily updates from WHYY News!

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal