Gov. Murphy Says New Jersey Is Ready for ‘Stage Two’ Reopening

Governor says successful social-distancing and stay-at-home measures mean that more businesses, other entities can reopen starting June 15
Credit: (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Some retail was already allowed: Vendors delivered goods to a shopper for curbside pickup at Garden State Plaza Mall, Paramus on May 21, 2020.

Outdoor dining at restaurants, indoor shopping, hair salons and barbers, museums and libraries could be among the next New Jersey entities to reopen, some of them starting June 15, under guidelines Gov. Phil Murphy promised would be available by the end of the week.

Murphy announced Monday that the Garden State is “now ready to move into Stage Two” of the three-phase strategy to restart the economy he outlined two weeks ago, thanks to successful social distancing and stay-at-home measures that have helped curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Outdoor seating at restaurants and nonessential retail — like clothing stores, bookshops and other services — will come first, Murphy said, starting Monday, June 15. Hair salons and barbershops are slated to restart a week later, he said, followed soon after by gyms, health clubs and limited public services at the state’s Motor Vehicle Commission. Youth summer programs can begin July 6.

Although the number of COVID-19 cases is rising faster in some parts of the state than in others, Murphy has said these reopening strategies will be rolled out statewide.

Businesses must follow new protocols

All businesses will be required to adhere to new protocols to protect staff and customers, which the governor said will likely include capacity reductions, layout changes, mask requirements and other efforts to reduce the spread of the virus. Murphy said the state Department of Health will issue specific guidelines for these businesses by Friday.

“Entering Stage Two does not mean we flick a switch. This will continue to be a phased-in restart, based upon a careful analysis of inherent risks and the ability to safeguard public health,” Murphy said Monday. Nearly 161,000 New Jerseyans have tested positive for COVID-19, including more than 11,700 who have died.

What are the three stages of reopening?

Murphy first unveiled his general concept for reopening the state’s economy in late April under the banner, “The Road Back: Restoring Economic Health Through Public Health,” which identified certain essential public health goals — like sustained declines in hospitalizations and expanded testing and contact tracing capabilities — which he said must precede businesses reopening.

Weeks later, he outlined the three-phase business strategy, with Stage One to include certain nonessential services to operate under new conditions, like clothing stores offering curbside pickup. Stage Two covers outdoor dining, “limited personal care and possibly indoor dining,” plus museums and libraries.

Stage Three will involve additional dining options, in-person business meetings, expanded personal care, “limited entertainment,” and bars — which are now permitted to offer takeout sales. All will involve new protocols, like limited capacity. The governor’s vision also encourages work-from-home options, whenever possible.

“Again, let’s use common sense for the common good. Only a successful Stage Two can get us to Stage Three. Social distancing will continue to be the watchwords of the day. Those high-risk individuals and vulnerable communities,” Murphy said Monday, “will still be asked to take extra precautions and to stay at home whenever possible.”

Wait, didn’t some stores reopen already?

When Murphy outlined the three-phase strategy in mid-May he allowed some nonessential retail businesses to reopen, but only if they could do curbside or window service of some kind. The  goal was to keep people from congregating. But the order led to confusion in several communities as some business owners desperate for new, or any, revenue set up operation on the sidewalk.

Grocery and convenience stores, drugstores, health care providers, gas stations, banks, laundry facilities, pet stores, liquor stores and others are considered essential and have been open largely throughout the pandemic.

Murphy has also permitted nonessential construction to begin again; previously this work had been limited to projects related to health care, critical infrastructure or to prevent residents from losing their homes. And the governor allowed communities at the Jersey Shore to reopen their beaches in advance of Memorial Day. He has also given the go-ahead for certain outdoor activities, like golf and archery, to recommence.

What is driving the timeline of the reopening?

Murphy has said the state had to see a two-week decline in new cases, double the current testing capacity and recruit thousands of people to help with testing and contact tracing before the economy could be fully reopened.

The state now appears to be testing more than 20,000 people most days, but case numbers — while clearly trending downward — have tended to drop for four or five days before spiking up again. On Monday, Murphy said he would provide an update on contact tracing in a week.

The decision to move to Stage Two specifically was influenced by other “key metrics,” the governor said, including the decline in hospitalizations and critical care needs. He also said the administration has been in close contact with industry leaders and the advisers he drafted in to help the state with the timing and process of reopening.

When questioned by a reporter Monday, Murphy said it was more of a trend than a specific metric that is guiding his timeline. The data “continue to go in the right direction,” he said. “We want to be more safe than sorry and so I can’t hang my hat on one number or a particular benchmark, other than the fact that we’ve made (declines,) when you look at you’re 70% to 80% of peaks, you have confidence you can move forward,” he said.