By Kevin Hornibrook
Gov. Phil Murphy held a press conference on April 26 to update the state on the effort to reopen, announcing increases in venue capacity and vaccination news.
The conference, which was livestreamed on YouTube, was held at the Trenton War Memorial.
Major changes to current restrictions included increased limits for both outdoor and indoor catered gatherings. All changes will be effective starting May 10.
Outdoor gatherings will be allowed up to 500 people, more than double the current limit of 200. Large outdoor spaces such as stadiums can fill 50% of their capacity, provided that seating is socially distanced.
Indoor catered events will have their capacity cap raised from 35% to 50% or 250 people, whichever is the lower number. This does not apply to non-catered establishments such as restaurants or nightclubs, but rather to events like weddings or proms.
The hard cap of 250 people will not be enforced for religious gatherings.
Murphy reiterated the need for masks as the fight against Covid-19 continues despite promising trends. These changes won’t alter the outdoor mask mandate that has been in effect since July of last year.
“People ask me this all the time, ‘What is your policy on outdoor masking?’ So before I get asked the question, it’s the same as it’s been since I think March of last year,” Murphy said. “If you’re outside and you cannot socially distance, you need to wear a mask. If you’re outside and you can socially distance, you don’t need to wear a mask. It’s that simple.”
The governor’s stance continues to be in line with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which recently announced new relaxed guidelines for vaccinated people in outdoor environments.
“We will be prepared to relax the six-foot distancing requirement outdoors accordingly, should, and I say should, the CDC move in that direction,” Murphy said.
Vaccinations across the state have been administered at an encouraging rate, according to Murphy. With nearly 3 million people fully vaccinated, the state is on pace for the goal of 4.7 million fully vaccinated adults by the end of June.
“[With] the resumption of the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine following a rigorous scientific review of a rare blood clot … we once again have all three tools back in our toolbox,” Murphy said, referring to the Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.
Despite his general optimism, Murphy’s press conference was undermined by the current reality of the pandemic which is still ravaging the state. As he has done in previous press conferences, Murphy told the personal stories of a few Covid-19 victims to remind the audience of the toll of the virus.
There are currently about 2,000 new cases and 35 deaths every day in New Jersey, according to The New York Times.
“Keep getting vaccinated,” Murphy said. “That’s an incredibly important step we need to pursue. Keep masking up, keep being smart and using common sense. The more you keep doing all of these above, the sooner we can look forward to reopening, and I’m optimistic that that time will come very soon.”