Restaurants, gyms, personal services to go to 50% capacity on March 19

Gov. Phil Murphy announced Wednesday that restaurants, gyms/fitness centers, personal care services (hair and nail services) and recreational and amusement facilities will be allowed to operate at 50% capacity, beginning March 19.

Murphy issued a number of new capacity rulings at his COVID-19 briefing.

The governor said that the number of people at an indoor gathering could increase from 10 to 25 and that the number of people at an outdoor gathering could increase from 25 to 50. These gatherings exclude religious ceremonies, political events, weddings, funerals and memorial services, which can be held in greater numbers.

Murphy, who said the steps can be taken due to increasingly lower hospital numbers, made special note to say that the state’s mask mandate would not change.

“We feel confident in these steps, given the data that we’ve been seeing over the past five weeks since the last time we expanded the indoor reality,” Murphy said. “For example, on Feb. 5, when our restaurant capacity last changed, for hospitals, we were treating just under 2,900 patients. That number has come down by about 1,000 and has been consistent since then. In fact, our hospitalizations have been below 2,000 for the past 12 days.”

Murphy said health numbers — particularly daily case counts — will continue to vary, but said he feels confident the numbers will continue to trend in a positive direction.

“We believe that, when all factors are weighed, we can make this expansion without leading to undue further stress on our health care system,” he said.

Murphy took a shot at the states who have eliminated their mask mandate.

“Unlike some states, which are prioritizing, frankly, flat-out politics over public health — Texas and Mississippi come to mind — our mask mandate remains in effect and will continue to be enforced.

“We will continue to move deliberately, responsibly, incrementally, guided by public health data.”