TRENTON — Dancing is back in New Jersey for wedding and proms, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday along with several other relaxed restrictions put in place as part of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The announcement, which the governor teased in a tweet Sunday, comes on the heels of a gradual decline in the state’s new reported cases of COVID-19 and increased vaccination rates.
“We’re only able to make the announcements we’re making today because of the improving numbers we continue to see across metrics,” Murphy said.
According to the latest data Monday afternoon, there were 1,558 new reported cases of COVID-19 statewide and the rate of transmission had dropped to 0.90. Murphy said numbers are moving “slowly but surely in the right direction.”
Vaccinations continue with eligibility now open to anyone 16 years old or older. More than 2.8 million New Jerseyans are fully vaccinated, and 4 million have received at least one dose of the available vaccines. New Jersey is 60% toward its goal of vaccinating 4.7 million New Jerseyans by the start of summer.
“As we have said from Day 1, we have been eager to relax our restrictions as soon as the numbers gave us confidence that we can do so safely,” Murphy said. “That time has come.”
In an executive order to be issued next week and take effect on May 10, indoor room capacities for private catered events like proms and weddings, political events, funerals, memorial services and performances will increase to 50% with a maximum of 250 individuals. Dance floors will be permitted at private catered events with a masking and social distancing plan. Dance floors at bars and other businesses such as nightclubs will remain closed, Murphy said.
Outdoor gathering limits will increase to 500 and outdoor capacity for large venues, redefined as venues with 1,000 or more fixed seats, will increase to 50% with 6 feet of distance between groups. In addition, carnivals and fairs will be able to operate at 50% capacity.
The New Jersey Department of Education and the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education will issue specific prom and graduation guidance later Monday, Murphy said.
“We know that this move to a 50%, 250-person limit will be especially helpful to schools currently planning student proms. And as we know, graduations will quickly follow those proms, and we’re hopeful that schools and colleges and universities will be able to lean on either the outdoor gathering limit or the large venue capacities,” Murphy said.
He said that he hopes that the outdoor gathering limit will “substantially” increase again before Memorial Day.
“That requires all of us to continue doing the right thing, including getting vaccinated,” Murphy said.
With the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently reviewing its outdoor guidance, Murphy said that if changes are made to the social distancing guidelines, New Jersey adjust its guidelines accordingly.
Guidance for day and overnight summer camps will be coming in the near future.
Outdoor dining at restaurants is not subject to a specific capacity limit, but tables must be distanced at 6 feet, he said. Indoor dining capacity remains at 50%.
“I continue to urge everyone to engage in activities outside whenever possible,” Murphy said.
A change.org petition started by an Ocean City High School student asking the governor to allow all students to attend prom had garnered more than 800 signatures in a week. The petition was accompanied by a letter to the governor’s office from the school’s Superintendent Kathleen Taylor and school board President Joe Clark requesting he exempt high school proms and graduations from the current 200-person outdoor event limit.
Ocean City plans to hold its prom outdoors May 22 on its football field. The petition was started after news spread around the Ocean City School District that prom would be limited to a lottery this year because of the outdoor limits still in place due to the pandemic.
Asked about the distinction between nightclubs and private catered events in regard to dancing, Murphy said it was a calculated risk because the ability to monitor who is at a private event is much easier than a bar or nightclub.
“These are big deal events,” Murphy said. “It is admittedly somewhat of a fine line, but it’s one that we feel comfortable coming down on.”
In addition to the relaxed restrictions announced at Monday’s New Jersey COVID-19 response briefing, Department of Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli shared information on the state’s vaccination efforts.
“Nationally and in New Jersey we are seeing demand for the COVID-19 vaccine slowing a bit with more appointments now open to the public,” Persichilli said.
She said the state has increased its marketing efforts for the vaccine and hopes reaching wider audiences will “help move them to take action.”
New Jersey is also working to make sure citizens receive their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. She said that 91% of individuals in the state who have received their first dose have also received their second dose, and that, over time, that increases to 93%.
“This is higher than what is being seen nationally,” Persichilli said
The CDC reports nationally that 88% of individuals who have received their first dose have also received their second dose in the recommended timeframe.
“All vaccinators are expected to follow best practices and schedule second dose appointments at the time of the first dose,” Persichilli said.
In addition, she announced that New Jersey will also now release data on the number of COVID-19 cases among hospital staff on its state dashboard.
State Police Superintendent Col. Patrick Callahan said Hi-Point Pub in Absecon was listed among the businesses cited for violations of the governor’s COVID-19 executive orders.
Callahan said that the Alcoholic Beverage Commission and the Absecon Police Department conducted a joint investigation, observing the violations.
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