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How soon will it be until Indoor Dining capacity can go up? Why is New Jersey so far behind other states in Covid planning and recovery? How will the Jersey Shore recover from the pandemic? Monmouth County State Senator Declan O'Scanlon joined us this week to discuss these issues and more on 'Eyes On The Jersey Shore'.

First up, Senator O'Scanlon and Senator Anthony Bucco in North Jersey have put together an online petition, which is already garnering signatures, to push Governor Murphy to allow bars and restaurants who choose to do so be able to stay open past the 10 pm curfew on Super Bowl Sunday.

The Super Bowl begins around 6:40 pm and almost never ends by 10 pm, leaving some who would typically go out to bars forced to possibly leave with a few minutes left in the game.

"If there were scientific justification for a 10 o'clock restaurant closing, I'd be completely on board, so for me this is about advocating what's backed by evidence, experience and science," O'Scanlon tells Townsquare Media Jersey Shore News. "If there was scientific evidence that a 10 o'clock closing was saving lives and reducing transmission...fine...but there does not seem to be any."

O'Scanlon adds that sending people home from restaurants in this scenario isn't a good or healthy idea either as he's seen restaurants prove they can stay open, sanitize, abide by hygiene requirements and keep socially distant.

The evidence, he explains, is in the fact there's no tracing of case back to restaurants.

"We've seen that restaurants are not significant spreaders. In fact, the Governor has admitted it himself. We see very little trace back to transmission in restaurants," O'Scanlon said. "Where we do see it is house parties where there is a lot less stringent hygiene practices and very little if any mask wearing."

By pushing people out of restaurants/bars and into house parties, O'Scanlon explains, that "you could very well be increasing our rate of transmission."

Editors Note: After this story was published, Governor Murphy announced the lifting of the 10 pm curfew and increase the capacity from 25-35 percent. But, while thankful, Senators O'Scanlon and Bucco, aren't satisfied with 35, they want more as our story continues now.....

SuperBowl 55 aside, his push for increased dining capacity is for the here and now, based on where things are trending and how restaurants and bars have shown compliance to this point.

"It's time. Our numbers all look good and restaurants are desperate to increase the number of people they can serve. Let's increase to 50-percent capacity, let's eliminate the 10 o'clock curfew and encourage people to behave responsibly, but invite them to be able to enjoy themselves responsibility," O'Scanlon said. "New Jersey has been stuck at 25-percent capacity throughout the last nine months and we've seen every other state around us go to 50-percent, 75-percent with no negative health impacts. All these states have performed as good or better than we have with health and transmission metrics."

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic itself and then the subsequent restrictions in place by the State, restaurants, bars, small businesses have been dealt a dagger to stay afloat at all, let alone break even with paying business bills or personal bills at home.

With cases where they're currently at, vaccines where they're currently at, O'Scanlon reiterates that the time is now to allow these businesses to serve more people at a given time.

"We have hard evidence that relaxing these rules is justified," O'Scanlon said. "There's no reason to continue to torture businesses and diminish their bottom lines because there doesn't seem to be any health or transmission benefit to it. If they're aren't, let's move forward."

Whether it be with indoor dining, Covid-19 testing and vaccinations, or a recovery comeback plan, New Jersey is behind a lot of states and many lawmakers on both sides during the pandemic have been vocal about the lack of transparency from Governor Murphy and his team.

"There is no satisfactory explanation. The Governor hasn't shared his metrics, hasn't shared the science that his decisions are based on and we've been overly timid (the state of New Jersey) throughout. We could have been at 50/75-percent capacity all summer long and given these restaurants a much bigger foundation going into the fall and now into the winter," O'Scanlon said. "Our timid reaction has unnecessarily damaged restaurants. We've been leading from behind and the Governor is all 'ah shucks, gee willikers, I hope eventually we can do it'. He doesn't need to hope, the Governor can grow a spine, look at the numbers and make a decision. I'm sick of hearing 'I hope we can', well, you don't need to hope Governor, you can just do it."

The lack of information provided at times has made it challenging to plan for a comeback.

"In contrast to other states, which have made their metrics much more public, which have put down on paper what needs to happen to move from one phase to the next of reopening, with projections of when they hope that would happen...New Jersey hasn't done any of that. It's been a mess," O'Scanlon said. "The Governor could, the administration could have said 'look, we're hopeful within two weeks, three weeks, four weeks...this is our target and folks by the way if we don't meet our numbers, we may have to move that target'...that would have been great and sent the right message of hope to our business people. We've never had that and it's been a real shame."

He explains that if we do move ahead with increased capacity and transmission goes up, people will understand why restrictions have to go in place again.

"Our numbers are all good and we do have to keep an eye on these new strains (Covid-19) and there's some indications they may not be as impactful as some were fearing, even two weeks ago, we don't know but we can remain paralyzed but we need to pay attention and if they do show an indication of increased transmission, we can always throttle back our restrictions," O'Scanlon said.

It was a stable enough summer tourism season for the Jersey Shore in 2020, but given where things are currently at, there's much that needs to be done for a comeback 2021 starting with Memorial Day weekend.

As more and more people get vaccinated, O'Scanlon feels confident the Jersey Shore will be able to thrive this summer.

"With what we hope will be a pretty solid vaccine rate, and it won't be a flip of the switch but by April certainly, we will be hopefully experiencing some of the benefits and the ability to really continue to make the arguments about relaxing a lot of these restrictions," O'Scanlon said. "We could have a really, really joyous summer and God knows we've all earned it. I am optimistic that that's going to happen."

What else will happen this year at the Jersey Shore? Senator Declan O'Scanlon dives into more detail in the video below.

You can follow Vin Ebenau on Twitter and Instagram and email news tips to vin.ebenau@townsquaremedia.com.

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