New Jersey, California Allow Some Indoor Dining to Resume

September 1, 2020 Updated: September 1, 2020

New Jersey and California on Aug. 31 took a big step toward resumption of their pre-pandemic economies by allowing restaurants to begin limited indoor dining, as new coronavirus cases abated nationwide even as some new hotspots emerged.

The two states are among the few that have continued to ban indoor dining while most others have lifted restrictions, according to the National Governors Association.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said the state’s restaurants and movie theaters could open for indoor service on Sep. 4 for the first time since a coronavirus shutdown in March. But they must limit indoor patrons to 25% of their capacity and space seating between groups in accordance with social-distancing rules, Murphy said at a news conference.

“Masks are required to be worn at all times in the theater unless you’re pulling it down to put away a handful of popcorn,” Murphy said.

California will allow indoor dining in San Diego and San Francisco starting on Aug. 31, and lift some other restrictions in nine counties. Gyms, houses of worship and movie theaters can also reopen for indoor activities with limited capacity.

Full restrictions remain in effect in other California counties—where 80% of the population lives—including the state’s largest, Los Angeles County. Hair salons, however, were allowed to reopen on Aug. 31 with modifications in all counties under a system unveiled on Aug. 28 by Governor Gavin Newsom.

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio ruled out a resumption of indoor dining anytime soon for the city’s thousands of restaurants.

“It would take a huge step forward to get to that point,” de Blasio told a briefing on Aug. 31.

Indoor dining with restrictions is permitted in the rest of New York State.

New Jersey and New York were the country’s two hardest-hit states when the virus began spreading in the United States in the spring but have since brought their infection rates down to among the nation’s lowest.

By contrast, California reported more new cases of COVID-19 in August than any other state, with nearly 200,000 infections. The level is down from July, when California reported over 262,000 new cases, according to a Reuters tally.

Nationally, the number of new cases fell 2% last week, the sixth consecutive week of declines. But the number of new infections still averages more than 41,000 a day. On Aug. 30, the country reached 6 million cases since the start of the pandemic, nearly a quarter of the world’s total.

Coronavirus cases rose in 10 states, up from eight states a week ago, according to a Reuters analysis of the past two weeks compared with the prior two. Deaths rose in 12 states, compared with 13 states a week ago.

By Peter Szekely& Barbara Goldberg