Beginning Thursday, bellying up to the bar is out.
“We know people are getting sloppy in and around bars as the night wears on,” Gov. Phil Murphy said at a briefing today.
Moreover, bartenders have been coming down with COVID-19.
So as of Thursday, bar-side seating in New Jersey restaurants will be banned.
Additionally, indoor dining must close at 10 p.m. and can not resume until 5 a.m.
Outdoor dining can continue past 10 p.m. and to make that more palatable in cold weather, restaurants would be able to construct “heated bubbles” for small groups of diners.
In the great scheme of things, these are fairly minor restrictions that seem likely to most impact all-night diners and casino restaurants. There really aren’t a lot of people who go out to dinner at 11 p.m.
Yet, this is also a case of the governor imposing pandemic restrictions after months of easing them.
Murphy stressed that the facts are changing – and the picture is not good.
Today, he announced 2,075 new cases and a positivity rate above 7 percent.
“New Jersey is back at levels we thought we left behind,” the governor said.
Assemblyman Brian Bergen, a Republican from Morris County, very quickly fired off a statement asking, “What makes it any more dangerous to eat indoors at 10 p.m. than at 7 p.m?” Bergen, in fact, said he’d pay to see the data.
Murphy indicated – without actually saying it and without getting a check from Bergen – that patrons are less likely to follow rules on social distancing and the like if they’re on their sixth beer.
As for the science, Judy Persichilli, the health commissioner, said nine bartenders and servers from one restaurant in Monmouth County have contracted the virus. She said that pattern is being observed elsewhere in the state as well.
On a more optimistic note, the governor said he hopes incoming president Joe Biden will be more amenable to New Jersey needs in terms of stimulus funding and the extending of unemployment benefits.
Murphy also expects a more rational approach to the pandemic by the federal government.
“We need to take this fight out of the political arena and into the scientific arena,” he said.
But Murphy knows the bad news – a Biden presidency is still more than two months away.