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Murphy allowing indoor dining to resume Friday

New Jersey is expected to announce on Monday it will give a second go at indoor dining Sept. 4, after Gov. Phil Murphy pulled the plug once on it just before the July 4 weekend.

Indoor dining will be allowed to resume at 25 percent capacity, just before the start of Labor Day weekend, which typically marks the end of the summer season. Face coverings will be required and tables will be spaced 6-feet apart.

“[G]iven the progress we continue to see statewide, and with the proper precautions and limitations in place, I am proud to say that our restaurants will soon be able to open their doors to customers for indoor dining with limited capacity,” Murphy said in a statement.

He is expected to make his formal announcement later on Monday. It was first reported by Politico.

Many of the metrics which Murphy said show how far the virus has spread are all heading in promising directions: a positivity rate among COVID-19 tests oscillating over 2, and a rate of transmission, or how quickly it spreads, consistently staying below 1.

“Now, our job is to ensure that this resumption is put in motion responsibly so we can continue restoring one of our state’s key industries while continuing to make progress against this virus,” the governor said.

Gyms and eateries were among the first businesses ordered to close as the virus began to spread across the state in early March. As the outbreaks ebbed, Murphy allowed outdoor dining to resume on June 15, with gyms set to open on Sept. 1  at 25 percent capacity and with face-covering requirements.

While some restaurants have been able to stay afloat through a combination of takeout, delivery and outdoor dining, the arrival of colder weather could eliminate the latter option.

Indoor service was initially set to resume on July 2, at 25 percent capacity with face coverings and sanitization requirements. But the governor pulled the plug on June 29, saying that indoor dining had contributed to surges of the virus then evident across the country.

The move was another blow to an industry that had already been staggered by pandemic-related restrictions.

“Many restaurant owners have not generated the revenue to pay for these start-up expenses over the past 15 weeks, and therefore, dug deep into their own personal pockets to restart their business,” the New Jersey Business Coalition said in a June 30 statement. The coalition is a group of chambers of commerce and trade groups, including the New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association.

A bill sent to the governor’s desk last week would set up a $30 million fund – managed by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority – to compensate restaurant owners for the financial hit they took when he pulled the plans on restarting indoor dining.

“I know many restaurants have had a tough summer, and I thank the many owners and workers who understood the need for caution, and who have creatively found ways to offer outdoor dining to customers,” Murphy said Monday.

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