As novel coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to increase in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy has announced new restrictions that are designed to slow down the surge of infections.

During his latest coronavirus update, Murphy said beginning Thursday all indoor dining — currently restricted 25% capacity — will stop at 10 p.m. and no seating at all will be permitted at bars inside those restaurants. The state will allow some closer seating at restaurants than previously if plexiglass dividers are in place, and outdoor enclosed "igloos" for dining will be allowed.

Marilou Halvorsen, the president of the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association expressed disappointment and frustration over the news.

“This is an industry that has shown it knows what it’s doing with sanitation. Not just this governor but many governors have said that spikes are not coming from the hospitality industry,” she said, “I know the governor is in a very tough situation but I don’t know why that we are the ones that keep getting the restrictions put back on us.”

Halvorsen suggested the restriction could actually backfire and cause an even bigger problem soon because with the holidays coming up.

“You’re going to have a bunch of kids coming home from college,” she said. “They’ll want to socialize, so instead of going to a restaurant or to a bar where the sanitation protocols are in place, you’re putting them into unregulated spaces like house parties.”

The governor repeated on Monday there is no evidence that indoor dining is leading to any increase in COVID-19 cases, but he suggested when patrons linger in a restaurant and alcohol has been consumed there is a tendency for everyone to get a bit loose and not follow social distancing and masking guidelines, so the chance of infections could rise.

Jersey City mayor Steve Fulop criticized the new indoor dining restrictions announced by the governor.

He tweeted that there is zero evidence that indoor dining has led to COVID-19 increases and “closing restaurants/bars at random time will only push people more towards those house gatherings that are spreaders.”

Halvorsen said the message to Murphy is simple.

“Work with the industry,” she said. "We’re not saying open this up to 100% but allow us to open safely and giving people a safe alternative of where to socialize because of the sanitation environment that we create, rather than in house parties that are not regulated.”

She added it’s unfortunate the governor is “always going back to the restaurant industry. It seems like we’re the scapegoat.”

She also said unless more state and federal assistance is immediately forthcoming there will be more restaurant closures and more restaurant workers being laid off.

New Jersey State Sen. Joe Pennacchio, in a news release, questioned the logic of Murphy’s decision to stop indoor dining at 10 p.m.

He said “this is another random edict from a governor who continues to fight the pandemic without the benefit of logic or science,” Pennacchio said. “Is the governor suggesting diners are more susceptible to the virus later in the night?”

He went on to say “unjustified restrictions like this crippled New Jersey’s economy earlier this year. We can’t let this happen again.”

Christina Renna, the president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce in Southern New Jersey issued a statement that said:

“The Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey (CCSNJ) respects Governor Murphy’s decision to enact additional restrictions as the State again sees COVID-19 cases rise. However, the CCSNJ is disappointed that the Governor has once again taken a statewide, one-size-fits-all approach, refusing to consider the vast disparities in health metrics throughout different geographical areas of the State. The health and safety of New Jersey residents should always be the first priority, but there is no harm in assessing the data and making smart health and economic decisions that do not treat every area of the state similarly when the health data supports that approach.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com