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Two parties, one mind on indoor dining reopening in Atlantic County

  • Updated

File photo from 2018 of The Chelsea Five Gastropub

The six Republicans and three Democrats on the Atlantic County Board of Freeholders unanimously voted this week to ask Gov. Phil Murphy to reopen indoor dining and other restricted businesses quickly in the county.

It was unusual for a board that often votes along party lines, but many cited the dire repercussions for the entire region if it doesn’t happen soon.

“I was surprised we had Democrats come and agree with us, but I’m not making this political,” said Freeholder Director Frank Formica, a Republican and co-sponsor of the resolution, along with Republicans Amy Gatto and Richard Dase. “This was ... nine people fighting for the lives of constituents of Atlantic County.”

Murphy said this week he had not made any decisions on when to reopen indoor dining. He had at one point said it could reopen July 2 along with casinos, but the governor changed his mind on indoor dining at the last minute.

Formica said Murphy cannot wait any longer to allow restaurants to reopen indoor dining.

“If this goes beyond another couple of weeks ... you are going to see iconic restaurants fall,” Formica said. The resolution asked Murphy to reopen Atlantic County’s restaurants, and possibly bars, gyms and movie theaters at limited capacity with health and safety requirements immediately.

Atlantic County restaurants have had three months of hurry and nine months of worry, he said. If restrictions on them last all summer, they will never be able to put aside the resources they need to survive the winter.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney announced Thursday that restaurants in Philadelphia will be allowed to reopen for indoor dining Sept. 8, just after Labor Day. Restaurants outside the city have been providing indoor dining for some time.

Also Thursday, the Garden State Initiative released an analysis showing New Jersey’s unemployment rate is 3.5% above the national average, in large part because the state’s indoor dining ban continues to batter the hospitality sector.

It also said New Jersey is one of just three states that still has an indoor dining ban.

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Democratic Freeholder Caren Fitzpatrick voted for the resolution along with Democrats Ernest Coursey and Ashley Bennett.

“It was the reason to ask the governor to consider the fact we are not Hudson County, not Essex County,” Fitzpatrick said. “We live in such a tourismcentric area, and the outdoor dining is only going to last a little bit longer.”

Fitzpatrick is Senior Director of Finance & Administration at Meet AC, an economic development organization that brings meetings, conventions and trade shows to Atlantic City. She was also in the restaurant business for many years as founder of Fitzpatrick’s Deli in Somers Point.

“We are going to see some permanent losses,” Fitzpatrick said of the area’s restaurants, which have been restricted to outdoor dining and takeout.

She said the county’s low population meant it didn’t qualify for CARES Act funding.

“If we are too sparsely populated for CARES money, maybe we are too sparsely populated for (keeping restaurants closed),” Fitzpatrick said.

Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson, a Republican, said he’s heard the Democrats are taking some criticism for supporting a Republican resolution linked to him.

“They didn’t vote in favor of Republican Denny Levinson, or against Democrat Phil Murphy,” Levinson said. “They voted what was right.”

Levinson said there are no facts or data behind the decision to keep indoor dining closed.

“They are gambling in casinos right now, but can’t go into the restaurants,” Levinson said. “People can go into Sam’s Club or Walmart or Target, where they’re loaded with people, and a restaurant can’t be at 25% capacity?”

Levinson blamed Murphy’s advisers.

“The governor is a charming man, the unfortunate part about it is, he is ill advised,” Levinson said. “There has to be consistency and sanity in these proclamations.”

Contact: 609-272-7219

mpost@pressofac.com

Twitter @MichelleBPost


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During the question-and-answer portion of Gov. Phil Murphy's COVID-19 briefing, the governor got asked multiple questions on when gyms and indoor dining can reopen. Earlier this week, Murphy appeared on NBC's "The Today Show" and was asked the status of gyms, theaters and indoor dining and when they'll be able to resume business, to which he responded he hopes sooner rather than later, "But we're not out of the woods yet."

Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson, is requesting that Gov. Phil Murphy lift restrictions on indoor dining and bars, gyms, movie theaters and entertainment venues arguing that county businesses can't wait any longer.“We have already lost Memorial Day and Fourth of July business and are fast approaching Labor Day and the fall season with no indication that the governor will permit indoor dining and entertainment anytime soon,” Levinson said. “Our restaurants are dying on the vine and cannot survive on just take-out, delivery and curbside service alone. Outdoor dining will become much less appealing as the temperatures drop and our active hurricane season continues to pose threats.”Levinson suggested that those businesses be allowed to reopen at limited capacity with the same health and safety requirements that other businesses are following. He added that Connecticut and Massachusetts both resumed limited indoor dining in June without any notable increases of COVID-19 cases.“The governor states that his decisions are based on science and data but we’ve yet to see it," he said. "Where’s the data that says that it is somehow safer to open those big box stores and indoor businesses than it would be for a restaurant or movie theater to open. If others can do it, why can’t we? We’re fighting for our economic lives here and we need the governor to take action.”Levinson cited a report by StratoDem Analytics that indicated New Jersey had a second-quarter economic loss at an annualized rate of 34.6% which is higher than the national loss. He also cited Atlantic County’s 40% drop in gross domestic product, the highest among all counties in the state.“How can the governor ignore this devastating economic data?” he said. “If these businesses have any chance to survive, they need the opportunity to reopen. We are confident they can operate safely and without placing any additional risks on their customers. At this point, it’s do or die.”Atlantic County Freeholder Chairman, Frank Formica. said hE supports Levinson in asking the governor to reopen indoor dining and entertainment and will bring the concerns before the bipartisan Board of Freeholders.“I fully anticipate the freeholders will pass a resolution to implore the governor to take this necessary action,” Formica said.—During COVID-19 daily press conference, Gov. Phil Murphy mentioned on Monday that the owner of a North Wildwood restaurant was cited by police recently after officials received complaints that the business was crowded, and staff were not enforcing social distancing.Officers saw "large amounts of patrons crowded around the upstairs outside patio bar, known as "Tiki Topz," according to a press release issued by the North Wildwood police. Social distancing regulations were not being enforced by staff.The police had received complaints previously about repeated violations of Murphy's orders, according to the release, and had warned the managers of the business.During the same press conference, Murphy also said there are 472 COVID-19 patients in New Jersey hospitals. The confirmed COVID-19 patients are 264, and 208 are persons under investigation pending the return of test results.—There two new cases of COVID-19 infections in Cape May COunty, but zero deaths, said Cape May County's Department of Health on Monday.One case each was discovered in Middle Township and North Wildwood, the county said. Two new out-of-country positive cases were also detected.Total positive cases of COVID-19 infection in Cape May County is now 1,041, including 83 deaths, the county said. New Jersey has 187,767 total COVID-19 positive cases and 14,077 deaths, the county said.—The state on Monday reported 316 new positive COVID-19 test results for a cumulative total of more than 187,760, along with another four fatalities for a confirmed total of 14,077 and another 1,839 deaths considered probably associated with the disease.For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness or death.—The United States Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories announced the first confirmed COVID-19 cases in mink at two farms in Utah. Mink are dark-colored, semiaquatic mammals that are in the same family as weasels, otters and ferrets.These are the first confirmed cases in mink in the United States after large numbers of mink died at the two farms. The affected farms also reported positive cases of COVID-19 in people who had contact with the mink.Mink were known to be susceptible to COVID-19 after the virus was found in the animal on multiple farms in the Netherlands, Spain and Denmark.There is currently no evidence that animals, including mink, play a role in spreading the virus to humans, according to the USDA. Based on the limited information available to date, the risk of animals spreading the virus to people is considered to be low, but more studies are needed to understand how different animals may be affected and whether animals play a role in the spread.—The Rock 'n' Roll Atlantic City Half Marathon has canceled its 2021 event, according to a post on its Facebook page."After further discussion and internal evaluation regarding the future of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Atlantic City Half Marathon, we have come to conclusion that we cannot viably operate the event and it will therefore will not take place in 2021," the post read. "Series officials will continue to evaluate options for possible future events in the region."All registered participants of the event will receive an email with further details. Anyone with additional questions can contact rnrac@runrocknroll.com."In what has been a continually evolving and challenging time globally, we recognize that this will come as a disappointment, but we look forward to providing athletes with an exceptional experience at a future event," the post stated.—Gov. Phil Murphy appeared on NBC's "The Today Show" Monday morning to discuss vote-by-mail, the Democratic National Convention and his response to COVID-19. Host Craig Melvin asked the governor his stance on vote-by-mail as the Nov. 3 general election nears and President Donald Trump has said election results by mail-in ballots could take months or years.“We should fund the post office,” Murphy said. “I applaud Speaker Pelosi for pulling her caucus and house back in. They have this phrase…go bigger or go home and apparently, Senator McConnell took the, ‘Let's go home’ choice.”Last week, Murphy announced that the Nov. 3 election will be mostly vote-by-mail, saying the vote-by-mail primary in New Jersey was successful.With the Democratic National Convention starting this week, Murphy—who co-chairs the Democratic National Committee— said it’s going be an “unconventional one without question.”“I think it's going to be an incredible week and it will set a big contrast to all this other unproductive noise of ‘us versus them,’” he said. “This is going to be a week where Democrats show, as big as our tent may be, we know how to bring people together. We know how to unite America.”Melvin asked the governor about schools reopening in the state and how districts can opt virtual or in-person instruction, or a hybrid of both, but that Murphy announced recently that school districts can go all virtual if they choose to do so.“Our objective is still very much to get in-person learning in one form or another,” Murphy said. “What we said last week is that if a district does not feel as though it's ready to go on day one, whether it's a shortage of plexiglass or masks, or maybe more than a complicated one, like ventilation systems, (it can) present a plan, give us a sense of how you're going to address that deficit and give us a date as to when you think you'll get there."He expects that many schools will have some form of in-person instruction on the first day of school, but he’s allowing districts time to get there if need be.“We're going to allow that flexibility,” he said. “Our principles are health and safety, educational quality and equity. We cannot forget equity. Not every family has the same circumstance and ability to do things like remote learning.”Melvin ended the discussion on when the governor believes indoor dining, gyms and theaters may reopen, as they are the only three businesses still not permitted to allow customers inside.“Those are hard, Craig,” Murphy said. “We're not there yet. We had a productive call with hundreds of gym owners, our team did on Friday. I hope we'll get there sooner than later. Indoor dining is something we all want to get to.”He explained that COVID-19 is “a lot more lethal” indoors than out.“We've been able to do what we've done so far and keep the virus somewhat in check, our numbers are a lot better than they were certainly months ago, but we paid an enormous price,” he said. “We're still not out of the woods. We're going to take this one carefully and again I hope, I hope we'll get to gyms and indoor dining sooner than later.”--Atlantic County health officials reported no new COVID-19 deaths for the 15th time in the last 16 days on Monday.However, 13 additional residents tested positive for the virus. They included seven males, ages 16-65, and six females, ages 21-65. Four reside in Pleasantville, three in Hamilton Township, two each in Atlantic City and Egg Harbor Township, and one each in Buena Borough and Egg Harbor City.The total number of confirmed cases in the county is 3,805. There have been 2,321 residents who have been cleared as recovered, and 242 who have died.The county will continue to provide testing by appointment at its drive-thru facility in Northfield at Rt. 9 and Dolphin Avenue, behind the county public works yard, every Tuesday in August from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. unless otherwise noted.The test site is available for both symptomatic and asymptomatic county residents with or without a doctor’s prescription. Residents must provide proof of county residency and appointment confirmation. Appointments can be made online at www.aclink.org.--Gov. Murphy's COVID-19 briefing will be held at 3 p.m. and will include Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli; Department of Health Communicable Disease Service Medical Director Dr. Edward Lifshitz; State Police Superintendent Colonel Patrick Callahan, Senator Paul Sarlo, and Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly. The livestream can be watched here.

Gov. Phil Murphy repeatedly has claimed that his decisions about when to allow what parts of New Jersey’s economy to resume are predominantly data driven. Yet he provides neither the data nor medical experts to talk about specific studies and statistics that supposedly form the basis for his many emergency orders the past five months.

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