TRENTON, NJ - Under fire from struggling restaurant owners from across the state, Gov. Phil Murphy at his daily COVID-19 press briefing on Tuesday reiterated the reasons he suddenly decided to put a pause on limited indoor dining that was scheduled to begin on Thursday, just ahead of the Independence Day holiday weekend.

The growing list of relaxed social and economic restrictions that are a part of the New Jersey Restart and Recovery Plan shifted abruptly Monday with the governor's decision to postpone the start of limited-capacity indoor dining. 

Using one of his favorite terms for people who are not compliant with public health guidelines, Murphy said he decided to put the brakes on indoor dining as a result of "knucklehead" behavior. He cited disturbing images over the weekend of crowded bars in New Jersey at which patrons were not wearing face coverings, nor social distancing. He also pointed to rapidly increasing numbers of positive cases in other parts of the country where indoor drinking and dining has been permitted.

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The governor said these factors led to his decision to halt the impending relaxation here in the Garden State. He did not say when he expects to resume limited capacity indoor dining.

"This is not how we beat back COVID-19. This is how we invite COVID-19," he said. "This is how flare-ups happen. This how you risk turning your community into a hot spot."

The governor acknowledged that the vast majority of bar and restaurant owners are complying and enforcing public health guidance.  

Meanwhile, the New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association issued a statement on Monday slamming Murphy for his change of direction.

The most devastated sector of our economy took another body blow when Governor Murphy announced the indefinite postponement of indoor dining in New Jersey. Announced only 48 hours prior to the planned reopen date, and based solely on supposition and anticipation, this change will cause even more restaurants to fail.

Many restaurant owners spent thousands of dollars ordering food, hiring back employees, and aligning indoor safety practices in preparation for reopening indoor dining prior to Fourth of July weekend. Some owners even used personal credit cards in hopes of regaining ground. We shouldn't sentence and entire industry because of unprepared states and the bad acts of some bar operators.

We have said repeatedly that unlike other business sectors, the restaurant community must meet the highest standards of sanitation. Patrons and employees can expect a safe and healthy experience. We just need support so we can do our job. -- Marilou Halvorsen, President and CEO, New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association 

"One establishment ignoring the rules or even just one patron ignoring the rules can undo months of progress and ruin it for the rest of us," Murphy said. "As a bar-goer you have just as much of a responsibility as anyone who works at the bar. Ignorance is not bliss."

Murphy had strongly worded advice for bar patrons, especially as the state gets ready for the busy holiday weekend. He reiterated that patrons must not congregate at the bar area, must keep appropriate spacing between groups so that people can safety place orders, and adamantly recommended wearing a face covering at all times except when eating or drinking. He also strongly suggested that if any establishment in an individual's opinion becomes too crowded then it is appropriate to leave.

"We all have to do this together. There are no mulligans when it comes to COVID-19. Use your common sense not just for yourself or your family or your friends. Use common sense for the common good," he said.

Casinos are still scheduled to open on Thursday, July 2, and are not effected by the decision to halt indoor dining. One casino, the Borgata, announced it would not open as scheduled without the ability to serve food and drinks to patrons. Amusement parks, water parks, boardwalk rides and arcades are also scheduled to open on July 2.

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