Listen up: Indoor dining is not resuming anytime soon

If you got caught up in the questions Gov. Phil Murphy did not answer regarding indoor dining Tuesday during his daily COVID-19 briefing …

  • Why is indoor dining being punished for actions at outdoor bars?
  • Why were more establishments not “named and shamed” or had their liquor license suspended?
  • Why did he make a decision after establishments would have spent thousands of dollars preparing for the resumption?

… You may have missed what he hinted at over and over again: Indoor dining is not coming back anytime soon.

Consider this:

We try our best to get this as right as possible. This weekend, there was a lot of disturbing data nationally that we saw; overwhelmingly, it was coming from indoor activity, and, again, it’s the combination of indoors, lacking ventilation, sedentary, close proximity. That’s a lethal combination.”

Murphy, in fact, said he’s heard COVID-19 is 19 times worse indoors.

Or this:

We need compliant and proper behavior. But we also have to aggressively prevent situations that we know are conducive to this virus taking on real momentum.”

And this:

We’re seeing what’s happening in other states. We have been trying, particularly on the restart piece of this, but, frankly, on the shutdown part as well. We’re trying to stay one step ahead of this virus.

“And that’s sort of the mindset, if I could ask humbly, that’s a lens I want folks to look at this through. We’re trying to stay out ahead of this.”

Forget the clichés about sooner rather than later — or that this isn’t a life sentence. Murphy firmly believes any situation where people are indoors, sedentary for a long period of time and without a face covering (as you are when you are eating) is the worst-case scenario.

How is that going to change anytime soon? How is that going to change when the weather is still nice enough — at times — to set up tables on sidewalks, streets and in parking lots?

Murphy hasn’t been one to take away hope — think of how long he held out on closing schools. Instead, he talks about how models always look better two weeks out. Sentences that are profoundly vague: “More time on the clock gives us a whole lot of stuff that we don’t have now.”

Murphy rightfully says the state has been through hell and back — and he doesn’t want to return. Fairly or unfairly, he sees what’s happening in Florida and elsewhere and he cringes.

“It isn’t just the knucklehead behavior, it’s a disturbing amount of growth of this virus,” he said.

Does anyone really think there are magic health metrics that are going to change his thinking on this?

This is the new normal. And there’s no data to suggest it’s going to change anytime soon — which is to say, anytime before Labor Day. Here’s the scary line: Anytime before there’s a vaccine could be a possibility, too.

The outrage over his decision to pull the plug on resumption at the last minute was harsh. And it was understandable. His timing was poor.

Now, it’s time for a reality check.

This scenario does not appear to be changing. Many restaurants (and bars and catering halls) are going to be severely hurt by this.

Murphy says he has the utmost sympathy, but notes he’s not going to be swayed. The cost is too high, he said.

“Think of the other side,” he said. “Why would I not want restaurants to be open, other than we’re trying to save lives?”

Listen to what he is saying:

Again, to repeat that point that probably was said a thousand times: Outdoors is a whole different reality than indoors.”

And that’s not changing anytime soon.

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