By LOUIS C. HOCHMAN
hochman@montclairlocal.news

Gov. Phil Murphy plans to loosen restrictions on indoor and outdoor gatherings once again, saying he's encouraged by rising vaccination figures and declining hospitalizations for the novel coronavirus.

The loosened restrictions could have several key effects for spring gatherings and celebrations — among them, they could allow some schools to hold proms, wedding venues to host more functions, and entertainment venues to allow more audience members.

Montclair Schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds said by email late Monday he's encouraged to hear about the loosened restrictions.

"I am aware that our high school administration is working with parents to hold a senior prom. This has been quite a year for our seniors, and we are hopeful they will be able to enjoy this much awaited celebration," he said.

Graduation plans are underway as well — "to honor this achievement and make it memorable for all, while we adhere to whatever safety restrictions are in place at the time."

His message didn't say what if any specific plans had been made — though any district will need to adjust as the state continues to update its own rules for gatherings.

Effective May 10, the state will allow up to 50% of normal capacity — with a maximum of 250 people — at private catered events, including weddings and proms. The state currently caps those events at 35%, up to 150 people. Guests at those events will be allowed to use the dance floor — though groupings of people who are dancing must remain at least 6 feet apart.

The same loosened restriction will go into place for funerals, memorial services and performances. New Jersey will also allow up to 50% of normal capacity for political events, which otherwise have no hard limit on headcount under the state's coronavirus rules.

Also effective May 10, outdoor large venues will be defined as those with 1,000 or more fixed seats people, and they'll be allowed to seat up to 50% of that capacity, provided they can keep groups of guests at least 6 feet apart. Current rules define outdoor large venues as those able to seat 2,500 or more, and restrict them to 30% capacity. Among the effects of that change: More high schools could allow spectators at outdoor sports games.

Carnivals and fairs will be allowed to operate at the same 50% capacity limit currently in place for outdoor amusement businesses, such as Six Flags Great Adventure.

Murphy said he expects guidance to be issued soon on the safe operation of day and overnight camps.

The governor, in announcing the loosened restrictions, said 2.8 million New Jerseyans had been fully vaccinated — bringing the state about 60% of the way toward its goaling of vaccinating at least 4.7 million eligible adults. About 85% of long-term care facility residents were vaccinated, and about 56% of the facilities' staffs were.