Pushed for details on why new COVID-19 restrictions for bars and restaurants in New Jersey are necessary, the state’s top health official on Monday pointed to an outbreak last month at a Manasquan sports bar and restaurant.
State Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said at least nine servers and bartenders at Leggetts SandBar tested positive and the New Jersey Department of Health issued an advisory warning that anyone who visited the restaurant between Oct. 17 and 22 might have been exposed.
The Monmouth County Health Department conducted a site visit Oct. 23 and the restaurant cooperated with its investigation into the outbreak, Persichilli said.
Persichilli did not say if any patrons came down with the virus after visiting the pub.
The restaurant, a popular destination for summer partygoers and football fans located on First Avenue, posted on its Facebook page Oct. 22 that it would temporarily cease all outdoor and indoor dining and switch to take out only, without offering an explanation. Subsequent posts said the restaurant would reopen its indoor dining area on Nov. 5.
A representative for Leggetts could not be reached for comment on Monday.
Persichilli mentioned the outbreak at Leggetts SandBar after reporters pushed for more information behind Gov. Phil Murphy’s decision Monday to close indoor restaurants, bars and clubs beginning nightly at 10 p.m. and to stop eateries from seating patrons at bars entirely beginning Thursday.
“This is just one example,” Persichilli said, of the Leggetts outbreak. “We really don’t put that out every day because they have to be investigated, but it is happening.”
At the start of a press briefing on the pandemic Monday, Murphy made reference to “evidence suggesting an increase of spread to patrons seated at bars and among bartenders,” but did not identify specific instances where bars and restaurants were linked to new cases until pressed for more details.
The new restrictions come as New Jersey has fallen in the grips of a second wave of coronavirus infections with daily new cases routinely topping 2,000 over the last week and hospitalizations in the state reaching 1,500 for the first time in five months. The state reported more than 5,000 new cases last weekend alone.
Monmouth County has been reporting more than 100 cases a day over the past week.
The new measures also impact a restaurant industry that has already been battered financially by the pandemic. The head of the New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association panned the new restrictions, saying restaurants had unfairly been made a “scapegoat” for the rise in cases.
“The last thing I want to do or any of us want to do is to shut our economy back down and thankfully we are not at that point,” Murphy said Monday. “Looking at the data, we are taking surgical steps that we hope will help mitigate the current increasing rate of spread.”
Under the new restrictions, restaurants will still be able serve patrons outside after 10 p.m. and will be able to move tables closer than 6 feet apart if physical barriers are erected, the governor said.
Murphy has said in recent weeks that rising cases across the state were due primarily to indoor gatherings in private homes and not a result of public activity that authorities could regulate or prevent.
But officials changed their tune Monday, saying indoor dining has been a source of some new cases.
Ed Lifshitz, the medical director of the state Health Department’s Communicable Disease Service, said that there has been evidence that bartenders in particular are susceptible to the virus on the job because they are frequently in close quarters with patrons often not wearing masks.
“It is a very difficult to maintain the type of separation and space that you would like,” he said.
Andrew Goudsward: firstname.lastname@example.org; @agoudsward on Twitter.