(Reuters) – New Jersey restaurants may open their indoor dining areas to patrons later this week for the first time since the state shut down most of its commerce when the coronavirus pandemic erupted in March, Governor Phil Murphy said on Monday.
The number of diners must be limited to 25% of the restaurant’s capacity and tables must be spaced in accordance with social-distancing rules when indoor dining resumes on Friday, Murphy said.
“Reopening responsibly will help us restore one of our state’s key industries while continuing to make progress against #COVID19,” Murphy wrote on Twitter.
The governor is expected to elaborate later on Monday on the coronavirus status in the state, which has moved incrementally in reopening its economy since May.
New Jersey, the country’s most densely populated state, was among the hardest hit in the months when the coronavirus first spread to the United States. It still has the second-most COVID-19 deaths of any state, with nearly 16,000, and is eighth among total cases with more than 193,000, according to a Reuters tally.
But the state has had much better control of the pandemic in the past several weeks, with a transmission rate that has largely been below 1%.
Across the rest of the country, total coronavirus cases topped 6 million on Sunday as many states in the Midwest reported increasing infections, according to a Reuters tally.
Although the national metrics on new cases, deaths, hospitalizations and positivity rates of tests have been declining, new hot spots have emerged in the Midwest.
Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota recently reported record one-day increases in new cases, while Montana and Idaho are seeing record numbers of currently hospitalized COVID-19 patients.
(Reporting by Maria Caspani and Peter Szekely; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Peter Cooney)