This is our daily update of breaking COVID-19 news for Monday, August 31st, 2020. Previous daily updates can be found here, and up-to-date statistics are here.

New York City is in Phase 4 of reopening now, which includes zoos, botanical gardens and bowling alleys. A look at preparing for the spread of coronavirus is here, and if you have lingering questions about the virus, here is our regularly updated coronavirus FAQ. Here are some local and state hotlines for more information: NYC: 311; NY State Hotline: 888-364-3065; NJ State Hotline: 800-222-1222.

Here's the latest:

New Jersey state officials will greet Labor Day weekend by reopening two long-awaited industries: indoor dining and movie theatres. 

Governor Phil Murphy said restaurants and indoor performance spaces can seat customers inside starting Friday at 6 a.m.

“We know this is a virus of opportunity so let’s not give it any unforced opportunities,” Murphy said during his briefing on Monday in Trenton. “There is no room for error and no excuse for being a knucklehead.”

Restaurants must cap capacity at 25% and follow strict health guidelines that include:

  • Daily health screenings for employees and mandatory masks for all workers
  • Frequent disinfection of common areas, like credit card machines and counters
  • Clear signage warning customers to stay six feet apart and wear face coverings when waiting in line to go to the bathroom
  • Opening all windows to ensure air flow
  • Checking air conditioning units for efficiency

The state is also recommending restaurants install HEPA filters on their air conditioning units. 

“Our goal is to ensure this step is done properly to prevent the kind of spikes we saw in other states that allowed their restaurants to reopen too fully and too quickly,” Murphy said.

Indoor dining was supposed to resume in early July but New Jersey scrapped those plans when cases began spiking in other states. New Jersey's rate of transmission has remained below one in recent days, meaning every new COVID-19 case causes less than one other infection. 

Self-service options in any indoor establishment, like buffets, remain banned. Groups are capped at eight people, except for members of an immediate family. Customers must wear masks if they are not seated and State Health commissioner Judy Persichilli said restaurants should consider encouraging reservations to help manage any potential lines. 

“Patrons should continue to practice social distancing, good hand hygiene and please do not go out to eat if you aren't feeling well,” she said. 

Murphy says he's also increasing indoor capacity for weddings, religious ceremonies or political activities to a maximum of 150 people or 25 percent capacity, whichever is less. That was previously capped at 100 people. 

Movie theatres and indoor performing venues will be allowed to serve food and beverages but must cap patrons at 25 percent capacity or 150 people, whichever is less. Movie-goers must sit six feet apart unless they are members of the same family. 

Gyms are also set to reopen on Tuesday at 25% capacity.

Still No Indoor Dining In NYC, Cuomo Says

In spite of New York City's neighbor across the Hudson River restarting limited indoor dining at the end of the week, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Monday that indoor dining is still not happening here.

Acknowledging the appeal of restaurants that will soon open their literal doors (not just sidewalks) just "across the George Washington Bridge" or reachable by a tunnel, Cuomo said, "I am aware of that competitive disadvantage for NYC restaurants." But Cuomo and state budget director Robert Mujica emphasized that New York City has a higher density than New Jersey and, typically, smaller restaurant sizes.

"Remember with the super-spreader concept, one bad bar situation, one bad restaurant situation, can infect dozens," Cuomo said.

The governor also scoffed at Mayor Bill de Blasio using 150 city sheriffs to enforce pandemic dining rules, calling it a mistake not to rely on the 32,000-strong NYPD.

Westchester County and Long Island have had indoor dining at 50% capacity for nearly two months.

New York's positivity rate is 0.99%, after conducting around 66,000 tests on Sunday. Hospitalizations fell to 418, and the number of patients in intensive care was 109—both new lows since mid-March. Cuomo added, "One New Yorker passed away and that New Yorker's family is in our thoughts and prayers, but we should pause a moment on that fact. There was a time when we were going through this crisis when we literally had hundreds of people dying every day."

Asked on Monday morning about the possibility of indoor dining returning in NYC, Mayor Bill de Blasio said it's still too soon. "Our Health team is looking at this issue all the time," the mayor said. "It will take a huge step forward to get to that point. That's the truth."

NJ To Resume Indoor Dining On Friday

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy will let indoor dining resume in the Garden State at the end of this week.

Murphy, who is expected to give more details at a press conference this afternoon, tweeted that restaurants would be able to welcome diners inside establishments, but at 25% capacity. He added, "Reopening responsibly will help us restore one of our state’s key industries while continuing to make progress against #COVID19."

Indoor dining has been banned since March, and Murphy has consistently been cautious about creating situations that might foster the COVID-19 transmission. For example, Murphy has called out "knuckleheads" gathering in large crowds and expressed concerns about a lack of adherence to social distancing and mask-wearing at bars and restaurants offering outdoor dining. However, NJ's transmission rate has lately stayed under 1.0, which means that each new COVID case infects less than one person or causes less new case.

New York State has reintroduced indoor dining at 50% capacity on a region-by-region basis for all of the state, except New York City.

New York City restaurateurs are eager to restart indoor dining; about 50% of all NYC's restaurant suspensions from the NY State Liquor Authority are the result of indoor dining violations.