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Three days before indoor restaurant dining was supposed to make its limited-capacity, socially distanced return in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy announced the reopening was being put on hold indefinitely because of COVID-19 spikes in other states and reports of packed outdoor restaurants at the Jersey Shore.

Restaurant owners across the Garden State were shocked. Especially those who have obeyed all sanitation protocols, spent tens of thousands of dollars on food and liquor and hired back their staffs in preparation for their return on July 2.

Some restaurant owners pointing out New Jersey has not had any spike in coronavirus cases. New Jersey’s major data points, including the coronavirus positivity rate, new hospitalizations and the rate of transmission, all remain low or continue to trend downward.

When Murphy was asked Tuesday why he had suddenly changed positions on the reopening, he said “it isn’t just the knucklehead behavior, it's a disturbing amount of growth of this virus. We know from indoor locations experienced now in other states.”

Murphy said the spikes in other states should serve as a warning.

Murphy stressed eating at an outdoor restaurant is one thing, and enjoying a meal inside is another.

“Indoors, this thing is a whole different thing in terms of its lethality,” he said.

He said New Jersey has been as aggressive as any state in closing and as cautious as any state in reopening.

“There’s a near-term price that comes with that — we completely understand that. But public health does create economic health.”

Murphy said if indoor dining begins and there’s an outbreak at your favorite restaurant, “that restaurant is done forever. That’s a forever.”

He said if we keep all of the COVID-19 indicators trending downward, it gives the state more time to expand contact tracing, testing and isolation capacity and that’s an added benefit of waiting a little longer for indoor dining to restart.

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