New Jersey halts plan to allow bars and restaurants to begin indoor dining

New Jersey will not reopen indoor dining this week as originally planned, postponing the move indefinitely, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said Monday.

Murphy said the decision, the state's first major reversal of its reopening plan, was driven by COVID-19 spikes in other states due in part to the return of indoor dining. 

"We do not wish to see New Jersey see a similar spike," Murphy said. "We’ve always said that we would not hesitate to hit pause if needed to safeguard public health. This is one of those times."

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The governor also cited images of overcrowded bars and restaurants across the state where people were not practicing social distancing, and very few, if any, were wearing masks. 

"The national situation, compounded by instances of knucklehead behavior here at home, are requiring us to hit pause on the restart of indoor dining for the foreseeable future," he said.  

Indoor dining was scheduled to resume Thursday, along with other reopening steps including casinos, amusement parks, gyms and health clubs. Those other businesses will still be allowed to reopen.

Murphy said he made a distinction between indoor dining and the other businesses such as casinos because face coverings are mandatory there, whereas they cannot be worn when eating and drinking. 

Murphy said people are also more sedentary and closer together in a bar or restaurant.

"Given the current situation in numerous other states we do not believe it is prudent at this time to push forward with what is, in effect, a sedentary indoor activity — especially when we know that this virus moves differently indoors than out, making it even more deadly,” Murphy said. 

The reversal comes after other states such as Texas and Florida and parts of California have closed bars after their reopenings were linked to coronavirus case spikes. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) expressed regret over the weekend for allowing bars to reopen.