Two days before new restrictions on outdoor gatherings are scheduled to go into effect to help combat the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Phil Murphy has clarified how the rules apply to entertainment venues.
On Dec. 1, Murphy had announced that all outdoor gatherings would be limited to 25 people, down 95 percent from the previous limit of 500 people. The executive order included exceptions for religious or political activities, as well as for funerals, memorial services and wedding ceremonies. Outdoor amusements would still have a 50 percent capacity limit.
Saturday afternoon, Murphy and State Police Superintendent Colonel Patrick Callahan clarified that entertainment venues — such as movie theaters, concert venues and performing arts centers — will not be limited to 25 people. Instead, they will be allowed to have performances in adjacent outdoor areas at a maximum capacity equivalent to the facility’s indoor capacity.
Murphy said the revised wording on the policy takes effect immediately, but the restrictions will still become effective as scheduled, in the morning on Monday, Dec. 7.
“While we know that outdoor environments are safer than indoor environments, during this dangerous period any type of mass gathering creates risk,” Murphy said at a press briefing this week. “As you start to make your holiday plans, please recognize that the gathering limits are back to what they were in May and June — when we all came together and crushed the curve as much as any state in the nation.”
The outdoor gathering limits could have implications for planned holiday events in December. New Jersey health officials are urging people to avoid sitting on Santa’s lap for a photo, discouraging holiday parades and recommending Christmas tree and Menorah lighting events should be held outside and social distanced.
The governor’s clarification comes the same day that an order temporarily banning indoor youth and high school sports took effect.
The order for outdoor gatherings says “while there is generally less risk associated with outdoor gatherings, it is appropriate to reduce the outdoor gatherings limit in our State to no more than 25 people to prevent increased transmission through super-spreading events and large community gatherings.”
Murphy’s critics — including Republican lawmakers — derided Murphy’s rules, citing the drop in the state’s rate of transmission and the lower death toll for recent months compared to the spring outbreak.
Despite the new rules, Murphy previously denied claims that he’s planning a statewide shutdown like he instituted in March and insisted the state was better poised than it was during the first wave in the spring — when there was limited knowledge, supplies and testing.
Officials have warned that despite forthcoming vaccines, the holiday season could potentially be brutal, as more people stay indoors to celebrate and gather.
Murphy’s clarification came as New Jersey reported 5,367 more cases of the coronavirus and 53 new COVID-19 deaths. The positivity rate for tests conducted Tuesday, the most recent day available, was 11.37%, meaning about one of every nine people who sought tests turned out to be infected.
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Rodrigo Torrejon may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.