Gov. Phil Murphy announced on Monday afternoon that certain COVID-19 restrictions, including outdoor gathering limits, the capacity at outdoor venues, the capacity at indoor catered events, and graduation and prom events will be loosened, effective May 10.
The announcement comes as more than 2.7 million New Jerseyans are fully vaccinated, and as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the state are decreasing. Daily new COVID-19 cases fell sharply to below 2,000 on the weekend to the lowest mark since the end of October. The hospital patient count — the health statistic most closely watched by officials — also fell further below 2,000 for a fifth straight day, to also a five-month low, with 1,797 residents suffering from COVID-19 complications being treated in hospitals across the state as of 10 p.m. Sunday night.
“Our robust COVID-19 vaccination program is starting to show results through lower COVID-19 case metrics, including a decline in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations,” Murphy said. “This allows us to take steps so that New Jerseyans can have a much more normal summer, including allowing for students to celebrate important milestones and events like graduations and proms in person. We hope to announce further reopening steps in the coming weeks as more and more state residents get vaccinated.”
Outdoor gathering limits will be raised to 500 people, up from 200 people. COVID-19 metrics will continue to be evaluated with the hope of raising the limit again, perhaps considerably, prior to Memorial Day, Murphy said. The outdoor capacity limits will be raised to 50% capacity for venues with 1,000 fixed seats or more. The current limit is 30% capacity for venues with 2,500 fixed seats or more. All attendees at these events are required to be six feet apart from other attendees, with the exception of people who purchase or reserve tickets together, who will be allowed to be seated together but must be six feet away from all other groups in all directions.
Capacity limits for indoor private catered events, including proms, will be raised to 50% of the capacity of the room in which the event is being held, with a maximum of 250 people. The current limit is 35% capacity of the room in which the event is held, with a maximum of 150 people. Officials said all indoor dining protocols still must be followed. The limit for political events, weddings, funerals, memorial services, and performances occurring indoors will similarly increase to 50% capacity, with a maximum of 250 people. Indoor religious services will continue to operate at 50% capacity, without a numerical cap.
Dance floors will be permitted to open at indoor private catered events, including proms with masking and social distancing requirements in place. Dance floors will remain closed at bars and other related businesses, including nightclubs. Schools and universities will be able to use the newly-raised outdoor gathering and large venue capacity limits to hold more robust graduation ceremonies. Proms will benefit from the increases in indoor private catered event capacity and the allowance of dance floors at such events.
Murphy said the New Jersey Department of Education and the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education will be issuing guidance to help schools and institutions prepare for end-of-year events.
Effective May 10, carnivals and fairs are explicitly permitted to operate at outdoor amusement business capacity limits, which currently stand at 50% capacity.
State officials said an executive order and guidance will be issued on both day and overnight camp operations on Wednesday, April 28.
“The continued cooperation with public health preventive measures and increasing vaccination rates among New Jersey residents allows for this easing of restrictions in the state,” said New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. “We encourage all residents 16 and older to get a COVID-19 vaccine. It will not only protect you, but it will help us drive down community spread, so we can reopen the state further.”