Ready To Reopen: What Business Owners Need to Know About Relaxed COVID Restrictions

More and more people are getting vaccinated, infection numbers are down, and the state has begun to open up in many ways it had closed down in response to COVID. In this post I’m going to discuss the new relaxed COVID restrictions business owners need to know about.

Indoor dining, mask free, has returned. Concerts and events are permitted to happen. You’ll still see some places where masks are here for a little longer, but life is about to feel a little bit more relaxed across the board. Keep in mind that all the following suggestions of going to places without masks assume you are vaccinated. Governor Murphy has asked everyone to take the wellbeing of your fellow citizens into consideration and please go maskless if that’s a safe choice.

It’s been a long couple of years for business and individuals alike, but the light at the end of the tunnel is finally getting bigger and brighter. That doesn’t mean it’s all smooth sailing, and you can just go around living your life carefree like it’s 2019 again.

There are things you need to know about the relaxed restrictions and how they will affect your business.

The NJ State COVID website shows how many different types of business categories there are.! Each one provides a different service or product that has different location and personnel requirements. To cover them all individually would take far too long.

Instead I’m going to cover the capacity and mask requirements in a way that allows you to easily answer the question for yourself and begin planning accordingly. I’m also going to introduce some ways of looking at this process that can make returning to full capacity that much easier.

Anyway, I want to help you avoid digging through the entire state website to get the information you need. Most business owners just want to make sure they’re following restrictions at the same time they’re running at the biggest capacity possible.

It’s not much to ask! Let’s get into the details and get back to full-time, full-capacity business as quickly as possible.

Remote Work Options No Longer Required From Employers

Starting this Friday, June 4th, employers are no longer required to provide remote work options to their employees. While this seems simple enough, a recent Bloomberg Wealth article discusses how some employees have grown to see working remotely as the reasonable status quo and are quitting rather than returning to their commutes to the office.

With that in mind, it’s understandable why Governor Murphy has asked business owners to work with their employees as everyone adjusts to reopening. He noted that while the state requirements are being lifted, he encourages all business owners to remain a partner to their employees, many of whom have to deal with their own staffing concerns regarding child care and similar services.

This is one of those instances where a little bit of common sense goes a long way for both employers and employees. We’re all trying to figure it out, so let’s figure it out together! It seems like that’s what is beginning to happen as larger numbers of big businesses are allowing remote work for at least a portion of their employees’ schedules.

NJ Restaurants and Bars, Once Again At Full Capacity

It’s true, the day has arrived, indoor seating at restaurants and bars has returned at full capacity. While many earlier requirements are now recommendations, rules regarding masks, capacity limits, and socially distanced seating have all been lifted. You are also able to go sit at a bar now, which were not functional seating areas before.

Whether you’re in food service or just someone that likes going out, you’re probably excited this day is finally here. There are a couple of small details though.

While the state is no longer requiring restaurants to close at 10 pm, it will be possible for municipalities or counties to set their own guidelines past 8 pm at night.

For example: Ocean Grove and Avon will require a 10 pm closing time for their restaurants, while Asbury Park and Belmar let things go until 2 am. This entirely plausible situation might play out across the state, but we will have to wait and see.

Just know it’s possible that certain populations might want to maintain the same level of calm they’ve grown used to, and aren’t thrilled about the idea of immediately going back to how it was two summers ago.

There’s also some new requirements that business owners need to be aware of. There are new instances where you have to provide hand sanitizer, sanitizer a bathroom or other shared space, and ways you’re supposed to document all this. Make no mistake, not all of the new COVID health requirements will stick around for good, but some will become part of routine health department inspections and getting ahead of the curve could avoid any fines.

The State and Governor have released general guidelines that simply ask businesses to do what they can, when they can. I feel this is reasonable, and hope that the State is equally reasonable when dealing assessing any fines or warnings to businesses that don’t initially meet the new requirements.

NJ Performance Spaces At Full Capacity

Believe it or not, but sporting events and concerts are now allowed at full capacity regardless of their size. No social distancing requirements will be enforced upon stadiums or venues, and they can sell tickets for every seat or spot they have to sell.

Keep in mind that if you’re a business in the vicinity of a popular venue or stadium, there might be a pause between when the law says everyone can go to events and when there’s actually events to go to.

There’s a whole network of different businesses that go into putting on live production, and most of them have been either partially or entirely shut down since the beginning of the crisis.

It will take a moment for that whole network of lighting, sound, set construction, etc… to reassemble. There will also be a period where there’s a clearing of the traffic jam of cancelled and rescheduled shows that must be honored.

Don’t expect a venue to instantly provide your business with a steady stream of customers this summer, as it might take them some time to get back to regular operations.

A special note for bars or restaurants that double as performance spaces, business owners must ensure performers are at least 6 feet back from guests and staff. This is the only time I saw such a strong verb in the state’s indoor dining guidelines.

COVID Regulations for Retail and Service Businesses

NJ retail and service businesses may now have customers inside without masks if they are completely vaccinated. Employer, employee, or customer can each choose to continue wearing a mask if they feel more comfortable that way, and can’t be asked to remove their mask.

The business owner is also free to enforce a mask policy for their employees if that’s their wish.

Exempted are any healthcare, warehouse, or manufacturing industries which will still require their workers to remain masked in the same ways they have been since the crisis began.

Public Administration and Transportation

While the private sector is freed up to make its own decision about masks, public buildings and services will still require masks. The MVC, state offices, and likely many of your local municipal buildings will continue to require employees and patrons alike to continue wearing a mask regardless of their vaccination status.

These requirements also apply to any form of public transportation. 

This aligns with Gov. Murphy’s statements that while the current numbers are looking favorable, he is still proceeding cautiously. If because of the new relaxed guidelines the number of cases shoots up to prior rates, the state will return to much more stringent mask and distancing regulations for businesses and public places.

All Together Now

I am not a fortune teller, so I don’t know how this is all going to develop. Maybe it’s really the end, maybe this will end up being an eager decision too soon for our own good. Almost 15 months since the first effects were really felt in the US, our state is now getting into the final stages of reopening and we’re about to see how that works out.

I encourage business owners to visit the link to the specifics regarding things that have to be sanitized. Beyond that, the ball is in your court with how much PPE and social distancing you want to have in your business. Consider who your customers are and what they’re seeking from you. A sports bar for college students would probably have far more trouble maintaining a mask policy than a Lawyer’s office. Don’t go against the grain, don’t go against your conscience, but make sure you go make a decision because New Jersey is opening back up!