If some bars and restaurants are doing stupid things, why not just crackdown on the knuckleheads and leave the others alone?
Phil Murphy was asked that question in various ways at today’s briefing and the underlying message was clear. Do not prevent the majority of restaurants who have been following the law from resuming indoor dining as originally planned on Thursday because of a small number of troublemakers.
There is no easy answer to that question, but the governor tried.
He said the reason indoor dining is being paused is not strictly because of the knuckleheads. Looking at how COVID-19 is spiking across the nation, Murphy said the problem may be how lethal the virus continues to be. Or in other words, he’s worried that the virus may spread even if people do the right thing.
But at the same time, the governor again reacted to the bars and restaurants that have violated pandemic regulations since outdoor dining began two weeks ago. Specifically, there have been photos and videos of some outdoor bars and dining areas overflowing with people. The outdoor rules call for social distancing, limited capacity and when possible, mask wearing.
“That’s how we backslide,” he said, referring to the violations.
Murphy said the state has a lot of tools on how to deal with violators and that the most serious weapon is suspending or revoking liquor licenses.
How about publicly naming them?
The governor hinted on Monday that it may come to that, but apparently not yet.
He said today that the state wants to do more than “just talk a good game.” This suggests a punishment greater than public embarrassment, which brings us back to the liquor license revocation.
The governor likes cliches and he offered up another one when he said in terms of punishment, everything is on the table.
Then there’s peer pressure.
Murphy said that the majority of bar and restaurant owners who have followed outdoor dining rules are “getting pretty mad at the folks who aren’t.”
OK. But what are they expected to do about it?
If any entity is in a position to swiftly and perhaps harshly deal with renegade bar owners, it’s the state, not the restaurant operator across the street.
One thing the governor did do was offer some advice to patrons visiting outdoor eating and drinking establishments. In fact, Murphy’s tips, if you will, were even highlighted on a screen.
They included no congregating around the bar, maintaining social distance (clearly those relate to each other), leave if you feel uncomfortable, and if feasible, wear a mask.
The intention may be noble, but how can you wear a mask if you are enjoying a beer or cocktail?