By LOUIS C. HOCHMAN
hochman@montclairlocal.news

New Jersey has eliminated most of its percentage-based capacity limits for stores, restaurants and other indoor spaces.

The change, effective Wednesday, May 19, could greatly increase overall capacity for some businesses and have little effect on others — as businesses are still required to maintain social distancing, which could limit the total number of people who fit in a given space.

Tables at restaurants still have to be 6 feet apart unless they have partitions that comply with state requirements. But a prohibition on tables with more than eight people has been lifted.

Houses of worship, gyms, personal care services, indoor and outdoor amusements, and indoor and outdoor pools now have no capacity limits.

Indoor catered events or others overseen by organizations are still capped at 250 people, but with no percentage limit.

Indoor gatherings other than catered events or others overseen by an organization are allowed to have up to 50 people, up from 25.

A capacity limit for large indoor venues has increased from 20% for venues of at least 2,500 seats to 30% for venues with at least 1,000 seats. A requirement that groups be seated 6 feet apart will remain, but individuals who purchase tickets as a group may sit together.

Outdoor gathering limits have been eliminated entirely.

The changes were coordinated with New York and Connecticut, and follow another loosening of restrictions earlier this month. 

Gov. Phil Murphy this week also signed an executive order eliminating the requirement for masks in outdoor spaces, first put in place in July of 2020.

He said, however, New Jersey will still require masks for indoor public spaces, even after Centers for Disease Control guidance said people vaccinated against coronavirus could go maskless indoors. New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Connecticut have all updated their rules to match the new CDC guidance. 

“The majority of New Jerseyans are still unvaccinated, and we’re not checking anyone’s vaccine status at the door when you go to the supermarket or to a hardware store, for instance,” Murphy said. “I don’t know how we can expect workers to tell who is vaccinated from who isn’t, and it is unfair to put the burden on business owners and front-line employees to police every patron.”

Murphy lifted an advisory that set out quarantine and testing recommendations for residents and visitors to New Jersey after interstate travel.

The governor also said that after this school year, portions of his Executive Order 175 will expire — in so doing, once again requiring all school districts to provide full-time in-person instruction in the fall, as they did before the pandemic. Murphy had already said he expected all districts to do so come September, and Montclair Schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds has said he expects the same for the district.

Rental assistance available

Essex County is accepting applications for the 2021 Essex County Emergency Rental Assistance Program. There is $15.4 million available to be awarded.

Renters and landlords who have been negatively impacted during the coronavirus pandemic and need help to pay rent or utility bills can apply for funding. Online applications are available at portal.neighborlysoftware.com/ERAP-ESSEXCOUNTYNJ/Participant.

Awards will be granted on a first-come basis.

Those eligible to apply include individuals or families affected by coronavirus through unemployment, a decrease in household income or confronted with some other financial hardship. Tenants and landlords are eligible to apply; landlords would be applying on behalf of their tenants. To be eligible, the income of applicants must be at or below 80% of the Area Median Income set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Information requested of the applicants will include identification for the head of household, income information for all those in the household who are older than 18, a copy of the lease, information about the landlord, and information about the rent and utility payments that are unpaid. Residents of Section 8 or public housing may be eligible to receive assistance for costs not covered by federal assistance and for the tenant’s portion of the rent or utility bills.

Walk-in vaccinations at Toni’s Kitchen

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church is hosting a free coronavirus vaccination event with the Essex County Board of County Commissioners at Toni’s Kitchen Thursday, May 20, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. No preregistration is required.

The site will offer both the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Starbucks gift cards are available for the first 100 participants.