NEW JERSEY: New Jersey and California on Monday (Aug 31) took a big step toward resumption of their pre-pandemic economies by allowing restaurants to begin limited indoor dining, as coronavirus cases abated nationwide even as some new hotspots emerged.
The two states are among the few that have continued to ban indoor dining while most others have lifted restrictions, according to the National Governors Association.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said the state's restaurants and movie theatres could open for indoor service on Friday for the first time since the coronavirus shutdown began in March.
But they must limit indoor patrons to 25 per cent of their capacity, and space seating between groups in accordance with social-distancing rules, Murphy said at a news conference.
"Masks are required to be worn at all times in the theatre unless you're pulling it down to put away a handful of popcorn," Murphy said.
In California, where overly optimistic reopening plans were rolled back as cases spiked this summer, business owners worried that the pandemic would continue to impact them despite the loosened restrictions.
"There are a lot of lingering concerns, because we've been here before and had to shut back down," said Jerry Sanders, president of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.
California's new rules allow indoor dining in 19 counties, including San Diego, where transmission rates have begun to ease. Gyms, houses of worship and movie theatres in those counties are also open for indoor activities, with capacity restrictions.
While indoor dining bans are still in effect in the California counties where most residents live, hair salons were allowed to reopen statewide on Monday, with modifications, under a system unveiled last week by Governor Gavin Newsom.
Coronavirus cases rose in 10 states, up from eight states a week ago, according to a Reuters analysis.
South Dakota health officials said they traced 105 new cases to the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally that drew hundreds of thousands of people from Aug 7 to 16. Overall, cases in the state rose last week by more than 2,000, or 104 per cent, according to a Reuters analysis.
In New York City, once the epicentre of the US outbreak, Mayor Bill de Blasio ruled out a resumption of indoor dining anytime soon.
"It would take a huge step forward to get to that point," de Blasio told a briefing on Monday.
The economic fallout from the pandemic has left the most populous US city with a budget shortfall, rising costs and depressed revenue, prompting de Blasio to warn that 22,000 jobs may need to be cut.
But on Monday he said he would suspend layoffs "on a day-to-day basis" while municipal union leaders try to convince state lawmakers in Albany to go back into session and authorise the city to borrow several billion dollars in the long-term debt markets.
New Jersey and New York were the country's two hardest-hit states when the virus began spreading in the United States in the spring, but have since brought their infection rates down to among the nation's lowest.
By contrast, California, the country's most populous state, reported the most new cases of COVID-19 in August, with nearly 200,000 infections. The level is down from July, when California reported over 262,000 new cases, according to a Reuters tally.
Nationally, new cases fell 2 per cent last week, the sixth consecutive week of declines. But the number of new infections still averages more than 41,000 a day. On Sunday, the country reached 6 million cases since the start of the pandemic, nearly a quarter of the world's total.
The United States also has the most coronavirus-related deaths in the world at over 183,000, and ranks 11th for deaths per capita. Brazil, Peru, Sweden, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom are among the nations with higher per capita deaths.
Deaths nationwide rose in 12 states, compared with 13 states a week ago.