The number of positive COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in New Jersey has been trending a little higher lately. The uptick has been linked to social gatherings, especially near colleges and universities and indoor religious services, notably in Ocean County, not to retail establishments.

Gov. Phil Murphy and health officials have said there is no data showing increases are connected in any way with indoor dining, retail stores or movie theaters, but indoor dining capacity remains at 25% and 50% capacity limits remain in effect for retail stores.

Last week, Murphy said that despite the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases, he expected to raise indoor dining capacity to 35% soon, although he did not say when.

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Tom Bracken, the president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, said if the state economy is going to recover, it needs to begin to safely increase these capacity limits using data collected daily, including the spot positivity rate, the rate of transmission, hospitalizations, deaths and the number of new cases.

“We’ve been stuck in Phase 2 for quite a while. There’s a lot of restrictions that stand in the way of growth of the economy moving from fall into winter,” he said. “We can then create a scorecard by region or maybe by county and the ones that rate with low risk ... allow more businesses to open. The ones that don’t, don’t do that.”

Michele Siekerka, the president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, said taking a regional approach will allow local officials to better focus on what’s good for their businesses and their residents.

She said if we continue to be in a "pause" mode, smaller businesses will continue to struggle.

“They’re hanging on literally by a thread at this point,” she said. “Right now we need to be bringing more resources to the business community, especially our main street businesses.”

Bracken pointed out a regional metrics-based system will also give some certainty to the business community.

“They will know that if the numbers start to go bad they will have to start to retrench,” he said.

Siekerka noted there has been increasing discussion about the importance of air flow and filtration, so “why don’t we look at a program where we can bring resources to businesses, to clean their HVACs or get the best new technology inside.”

She said businesses have followed all safety guidelines and protocols very diligently, so moving forward “we need to continue to trust that the business community will continue to be responsible and increase their capacity so they can continue to thrive and survive.”

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