Gov. Phil Murphy gave bar-goers — especially those at the Shore — a warning Monday: Do the right thing (the safe thing) while standing in line or risk having more establishments closed.
The irony of the remark is: It comes after a weekend when health metrics continued their downward trend, especially the rate of transmission, or Rt, which dropped below the coveted 1.0 mark (it fell to 0.98 at the 10 p.m. Sunday reading.)
“The decrease in Rt is definitely a positive sign, but no one should look at that and think it means that coronavirus is no longer with us, or that you can go ahead and leave your mask at home or join a big crowd waiting to get into a bar with your friends,” Murphy said.
Murphy, speaking at his COVID-19 briefing Monday, said he was aghast at the pictures he saw from this past weekend.
“This is not a game,” he said. “Standing around mask-less in a crowd outside a bar is just as big a knucklehead move as standing around mask-less inside one.
“The patrons, and these bars, need to get on the same page and quick. Your responsibility to help stop the spread of coronavirus doesn’t go on ‘pause’ when you’re standing in line. I’m going to give everyone a chance to do the right thing, but if we have to shut places down to protect public health, then so be it.
“Consider this your warning before you go out drinking this weekend.”
Murphy said he didn’t want to specifically call out bars — knowing they do not control how potential customers act outside — but did so anything, naming some familiar names to Shore-goers: Jenks in Point Pleasant, D’Jais and 10th Avenue Burrito in Belmar, and Donovan’s Reef in Sea Bright.
“Once again, we are seeing documented news reports of numerous examples of bars that may have been trying to do the right thing once patrons got it in, but whose lines were filled with people — again, particularly young people — who were neither being kept socially distant or were wearing masks,” Murphy said.
“By the time these patrons would have even gotten in, this virus could have already easily spread just through the line.”
Murphy said the drop in the Rt is directly related to increased vigilance by the public.
“This is because all of you have redoubled your efforts as it relates to social distancing and wearing your masks, and from what we’ve done from a policy point to crack down on crowded indoor gatherings,” he said.
Murphy didn’t directly answer a question about what metrics would be needed to open indoor dining — In fact, he said he didn’t agree with the premise that any such metric constantly is changing. But he did give another example of why he is resistant to such a reopening.
Murphy showed a clip — from a situation that supposedly took place in China — that showed the impact just one positive case could have on indoor dining, due to cross ventilation caused by air conditioning.
“In this instance, one infected and contagious diner, at this middle table, was able to spread coronavirus to nine other diners at the tables to their left and right — including some seated as far as 14 feet away,” he said. “The common thread was that all of these patrons were seated in a straight line from an air conditioner.
“I think any of us can name any number of restaurants that we go to which have a seating arrangement and air-conditioning situation not unlike the one in this restaurant halfway around the globe.”
Simply put, Murphy said air flow is a huge concern.
“This is why we have been much more forthright in reopening outdoor activities, including outdoor dining, while limiting indoor ones – and requiring masks to be worn at all times while indoors,” he said. “Allowing diners to sit mask-less for an extended period of time in a restaurant where the air-conditioning unit could silently spread coronavirus is a risk we cannot yet take.”