Mon Aug 31 2020 04:00:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)

Reopen Indoor Dining

Punctuated with frustrations over the lack of movement by Gov. Murphy to allow restaurants to reopen indoor dining, the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders wants to see that change before Labor Day.

"Our restaurant owners and their workers have waited long enough and have suffered the greatest economic harm during this pandemic," said Ocean County Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari, who is liaison to tourism and business development. "These food establishments, with a plan in place, should be allowed to reopen for indoor dining right now."

The Freeholders, during a preboard meeting Aug. 26, provided comments and voiced concerns about Gov. Murphy's apparent lack of empathy especially in shore communities for business owners that are struggling and can no longer make ends meet.

Vicari noted that many of the seasonal businesses in Ocean County have already sustained irreparable financial harm as a result of the state mandates that have allowed for curbside and outdoor dining only.

"For many of these businesses, they are sustained by summer visitors so they rely on 10 to 12 weeks out of the year," Vicari said. "The state has indicated that we will not even receive reopening guidelines for these restaurants before Labor Day.

"Restaurants in North Jersey have 52 weeks out of the year that they can rely on," he said. "It's not just dollars and cents. Some of these restaurants are legacy businesses passed down from one generation to the next. They want to survive."

There are 3,200 restaurants and food establishments located in Ocean County.

Vicari said small businesses should be treated the same as big corporations including the large box stores, and supermarkets.

"It's always the little guy that suffers," he said. "This is hurting a lot of good people."

Ocean County Freeholder Gary Quinn noted that the number of cases of coronavirus in the County have continuously decreased.

"We keep being told we have to follow the science," Quinn said. "I have to question whether we are following any kind of science at this point. Certainly our numbers in Ocean County continue to be where they should be and because of this the businesses should be allowed to open. We are on their side. Enough is enough.

"When it comes to our restaurants to be under the thumb of the governor, is 100 percent wrong," he said. "There are only two states not allowing indoor dining, California and New Jersey."

Ocean County Freeholder Virginia E. Haines questioned if Gov. Murphy's motives have grown solely political.

"Is he trying to ruin our businesses so he can blame President Trump," she asked. "Surely it's not President Trump doing this."

Haines noted Gov. Murphy has allowed many activities that have resulted in crowds and long lines like accessing the state Motor Vehicle Commission offices.

"His actions are very hurtful to our residents as well as our businesses," she said. "To be one of only two states out of 50 not allowing indoor dining doesn't speak well for this governor."

Ocean County Freeholder John P. Kelly said if he had the authority to do so he would propose a resolution that would allow the opening of all restaurants.

"It's time to allow people to go out and live their lives and make their own decisions," he said.
The Freeholders are not suggesting that businesses ignore Centers for Disease Control guidelines or any other precautions that can be taken to keep customers and staff protected from the coronavirus.

"We are not trying to diminish the effects of this pandemic and the toll it has taken. What we are saying is we want to work within the guidelines," Vicari said. "We would do the right thing."

Ocean County Freeholder Gerry P. Little, who serves as liaison to the Ocean County Health Department said 1.8 percent of the county's population of 600,000 people were infected with the virus since March when the first cases were noted.

"Since March when cases were first reported we had 11,036 cases," he said. "We also have to remember our population soars to more than 1 million people in the summer months.

"Our restaurants and bars are essential to our economy," Little said. "We strongly encourage the governor to open up our restaurants safely and allow them to operate to start to restore our economy."
Vicari urged the Governor to open indoor dining before Labor Day.

"Ocean County like other coastal counties is unique since the tourism season, which is our economic engine, slows down dramatically after Labor Day," Vicari said. "These restaurants have experienced major financial losses because the Governor did not allow indoor dining during the height of the tourism season.

"Outdoor dining can't last forever as colder weather sets in," Vicari said. "We can't let our businesses close permanently because of these orders. Policies and mandates have to be fair. Right now they are not."