By Tyler Barth
Blaming packed house parties for new outbreaks of COVID-19, Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday re-ratcheted limits on indoor gatherings.
“Unfortunately, the actions of a few knuckleheads leave us no other course. We have to go back and tighten these restrictions,” the governor said.
New Jersey’s previous guidelines limited indoor gatherings to 100 people or 25 percent of capacity, whichever was lower. Under Monday’s revised guidelines, gatherings are restricted to 25 people or 25 percent of capacity — again whichever is lower.
“The only way we can get to where we want to be with indoor activities is if EVERYONE plays by the rules and no one tries to make end-runs around them,” Murphy said in a tweet.
Religious activities, memorial services, weddings, and funerals are exempt from this new restriction. Outdoor events remain capped at 500 people.
The latest revision came as New Jersey’s transmission rate hovered at 1.48 percent–higher than the 1.0 benchmark that indicates the pandemic is spreading. The benchmark means that every infected individual is transmitting the novel coronavirus to at least one person.
Murphy also reversed course in mid-June, abruptly scrubbing plans to allow limited indoor dining.
Since July 22, at least three Morristown restaurants — the Morristown Pancake House, Nunzio’s Dolce Vita and La Campagna Ristorante — have closed their doors. So has the Market Taverne, an upscale Harding establishment with a Morristown zip code.
The Market Taverne owners said they are losing their business “because of the blanket decision by our governor to take away indoor dining from all restaurants instead of simply suspending liquor license for those bars whose owners and patrons violated the safety protocols.
“It’s a sad day 30 employees now unemployed and we lost our livelihood…(a) local family independently owned business,” the owners posted on Instagram.
The Tashmoo Bar and Grill made headlines when it was closed after the restaurant’s owners failed to abide by guidelines and allowed more than 100 people, many without masks, into a makeshift Morristown beer garden on June 19.
Murphy called bars and patrons who refuse to follow the proper guidelines “the ones who ruin it for everyone else.”
“It’s tough for all the restaurant owners,” said John Baldassarre, owner of the Stirling Tavern, in the aftermath of the dining rollback. “A couple people broke the rules, and unfortunately we all got penalized for it.”
When restaurants go down, the damage ripples through other businesses.
“We can’t survive like this,” said David Balsamini, owner of the Morristown Game Vault. “A lot of businesses, we haven’t made a single cent.”
The popular downtown arcade traditionally relies on the patronage of people waiting for their restaurant reservations. It has remained mostly empty since reopening four weeks ago.