TRENTON – Get vaccinated and get a free beer. It may seem like a joke, but it’s now part of Operation Jersey Summer, an evolving state effort to get more needles in arms.
“In many ways, we are running a campaign,” Gov. Phil Murphy said today. Murphy, of course, is running a campaign – a reelection campaign. But at this time, the governor was talking about a campaign to get more people vaccinated.
So far, about 45 percent of the state’s nearly 7 million adult residents have been vaccinated. The goal is to vaccinate at least 70 percent of them – 4.7 million – by the end of June.
From the onset of vaccine development late last year, state officials knew they weren’t going to reach the “anti-vaxxers.” But Murphy hopes the state can convince those “who may be sitting on the fence.”
That’s where beer comes in.
Under a program appropriately called a “shot and a beer,” the state has enlisted 13 local breweries to give a free beer to anyone 21 and older showing up with proof of vaccination. And he hopes that list of 13 will grow.
And conditions for such growth are about to improve.
In a wide-ranging loosening of pandemic restrictions, the governor said that beginning this Friday, patrons can again sit at a bar and order a drink. Bar service of that type had been banned under pandemic regulations.
But there is a catch.
The governor said that six-feet of social distancing must be maintained and that he expects bars to enforce the regulation. This, of course, may be easier said than done, especially as the night moves along, the bar gets crowded and more people are drinking.
Asked if the state ABC, which routinely checks on bars around the state, will be enforcing social distancing at bars, the governor said, “You betcha.”
In conjunction with bar service, beginning May 19, the indoor capacity limit of 50 percent in restaurants, will be eliminated. But there’s a catch here as well.
Murphy said restaurants in most cases still will have to keep tables six-feet apart, which by definition can limit capacity. They also have the option of constructing partitions.
The governor said the six-feet standard comes from the CDC and that he won’t change it unless the CDC does.
Restrictions for a variety of other activities and businesses, including catering halls and outdoor venues also are being relaxed. Now that it’s May, the governor looked ahead to a traditional summer, noting that unlike 2020, he expects parades, fairs and July 4 fireworks to be held this year.
“These are the most aggressive steps we have taken to date,” he said.
This is happening because the COVID metrics are getting better and because of vaccines.
On that score, Murphy described Operation Jersey Summer as the most aggressive vaccine-encouragement program in the nation.
He spoke of reaching out to people through emails, phone calls and knocking on doors. He also wants the public to help. Murphy said those who have gotten vaccinated should tell their friends and others that the procedure was easy and safe.
With the pandemic now in its 14th month, the governor seems convinced the state has turned the corner. He still seems wary of another surge, but is more apt to view things through the lens of history – or like it was 1945.
“It’s time to take Berlin and put a stake in the heart of this virus,” he said.