Murphy: Outdoor dining, indoor retail and salons all coming this month
Stressing ramped-up testing, tracing and hospitalization capacity as New Jersey continues to register dozens to hundreds of death a day from the novel coronavirus, Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday the state is ready to enter a new stage of its economic recovery — one that will see restaurants, retail and personal care businesses open back up in the coming weeks.
On June 15 — two weeks from now — Murphy expects to allow outdoor dining and limited indoor retail shopping, with stores at 50 percent of their normal capacity. Restaurants have been offering take-out and delivery only since March, and retail shops deemed non-essential have been offering curbside pickup in recent weeks. New Jersey allowed stores deemed essential to remain open throughout the pandemic.
Salons and barbershops are slated to reopen June 22.
Gyms and health clubs would open at reduced capacity sometime afterward, though Murphy declined to put a date on those businesses. That's even as some gyms have openly defiled the governor's shutdown order, most notably Atilis Gym in Bellmawr, which made headlines and drew hundreds of supporters when it opened back up last month. The gym has also filed a lawsuit against the Murphy administration challenging it's authority to shut down businesses.
Even as the governor celebrated advancements in health infrastructure he said made it possible for New Jersey to enter the second phase of his planned three-stage "Road to Recovery" — a rough roadmap to easing the restrictions on businesses and gatherings he first ordered in March — he warned a new surge in novel coronavirus cases could change his plans.
"Only a successful Stage 2 can get us to Stage 3," Murphy said.
Also part of Stage 2, according to materials from the governor's office: youth summer programs, in-person clinical research and some governmental services, though he didn't attach specific dates to most. An expected Stage 3 would include expanded dining, "critical" office work, limited entertainment, further personal care and bars with limited capacity.
It's not clear how long the governor expects before New Jersey enters that stage, though he's previously described the progression from one stage to another as taking weeks if conditions hold up.
And "just because the calendar says June 15, doesn't mean everyone should just go back to what they were doing and the way they were doing it pre-COVID," Murphy said. He stressed those who can work from home should for the foreseeable future. Particularly vulnerable people — the elderly and people with significant health conditions — should continue to limit personal contact as much as possible, he said.
In making his announcement Monday, Murphy cited the state's downward trend of hospitalizations and resource use related to the coronavirus pandemic. At its peak, he said, only 15 percent of ICU beds remained available in the state. As of March 31, 46 percent were available.
Murphy said New Jersey now conducts more than 20,000 coronavirus tests per day, up from 6,000 a few months ago. It has 900 contact tracers in place — the governor said he expects to address more about how they'll be deployed in the coming days.
He also said his administration expects to give businesses guidance in the coming days so they can begin preparing for reopenings later this month.
"We are thrilled. We are ready to go back to work," salon owner Louis Christian of Louis Christian Robert John Salon in Cherry Hill said about the news.
He'd been working with other salon owners to develop uniform protocols for salons to follow upon reopening.
Christian checked with the state Board of Cosmetology and Hairstyling on Friday about any possible protocols and said he was told none had yet been developed.
"They have not gotten themselves together as far as protocols at this point, which is a little shocking I have to say," Christian said, adding that he is set to go with the guidelines he's developed for his own salon.
The governor has been coming under increasing pressure from legislators — including some fellow Democrats — and the businesses community to open more, and faster. New Jersey 101.5 has spoken to several business owners saying they'll open with or without approval if they don't have more signs of progress soon.
Even before Murphy completed his daily press briefing on the coronavirus response Monday, Republican state Sen. Declan O'Scanlon and Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso issued a statement condemining the the "slowdrip of guidance" and "slow death for restaurants."
“This is another sad example of the Murphy Administration needlessly micromanaging and seriously damaging a key component of our economy,” O’Scanlon said in his release. “It is devastating for these business owners. I hear from them every day. Grown men in tears. It is totally unnecessary. There is no scientific basis for New Jersey to be this far behind other states reopening safely.”
The New Jersey Business & Industry Association, however, praised Murphy for offering businesses more certainty as they plan the weeks ahead.
"While we recognize that the pace of the reopenings cannot come quick enough for many businesses, today's movement forward is a needed step toward a safe and sustainable reopening that emphasizes the health, safety and welfare of our workforce, customers and vendors," NJBIA President & CEO Michele Siekerka said in a statement.