An order went out late Friday from San Francisco Health Officer Dr. Tomas Aragon that forces the closure of bars and nightclubs with official maximum occupant loads of 100 people or more, and this led to the immediate closure of at least two Castro nightclubs. An untold number of others will also likely be impacted.
While the order took effect at 5 p.m. Friday, it was still business as usual for many bars in the Mission, SoMa, and Castro — some of which either had not seen the order, did not know it applied to them, do not have maximum occupant loads over 100, or fall under an exception because they serve food. Restaurants and bars that serve food are being urged to limit capacity to 50 percent of their maximum and allow for social distancing.
In the Castro, for instance, The Lookout, Hi Tops, 440, Twin Peaks, The Edge, and Detour all remained open on Friday, while Beaux and Midnight Sun (which share the same ownership) posted signs that they will be closed by the city order until May 1. Staff at the bars only found out about the closures just before 5 p.m. Friday.
In SoMa, DNA Lounge had already canceled all of its events for the next three weeks, according to the website, though there may be a further update following the latest order from the Health Department. SPiN, the ping-pong bar, announced on its website earlier this week that it is "sanitizing of all ping pong paddles, tables and equipment and have provided wipes and hand sanitizers for each guest upon arrival," and it is likely to be allowed to remain open because it serves food.
Oasis is remaining open, according to co-owner D'Arcy Drollinger, and just limiting capacity at all of its events to 100 people. The regular Saturday night drag show POPTART, which was scheduled to be headlined by Rupaul's Drag Race contestant Aiden Zhane, has been canceled.
"We want to be there for the community and also want to take care of the community," says Drollinger. "We are considering doing [video] streaming of shows."
The official order, reiterated in a tweet Friday afternoon by Mayor London Breed, is meant to limit mass gatherings in a city where an increasing number of examples of community spread of the coronavirus have been detected. As of Saturday, San Francisco has 28 confirmed cases of COVID-19, up from 23 a day earlier.
As Dr. Aragon writes:
This Order is issued to prevent circumstances often present in Mass Gatherings that are likely to exacerbate the spread of COVID-19. Those circumstances include, without limitation: (a) the increased likelihood that Mass Gatherings will attract people from a broad geographic area; (b) the prolonged time period during which large numbers of people are in close proximity; (c) the difficulty in tracing exposure when large numbers of people attend a single event; (d) the inability to ensure that attendees follow adequate hygienic and social distancing practices like those described in the attached Social Distancing Recommendations; and (e) the possibility that a person with the virus may be in attendance.
"The city handled this very strangely," said one bar owner who preferred to remain nameless. Pointing out that the closure of large spaces will potentially funnel more people into tighter quarters, the bar owner said, "I hope the closures help."
While many believe Americans must take drastic steps to prevent the spread of the virus, others continue to call this a case of mass hysteria. Experts in the field remain extremely grave in their predictions for the spread and ultimate death toll from the virus. And as Donald G. McNeil, Jr. discussed on the New York Times' The Daily podcast this week, "In every epidemic I’ve ever covered, whether that was AIDS in Africa or Zika here, people don’t believe the disease is going to get them until somebody they know gets it and suffers." He talked about the "Rock Hudson effect" when it came to AIDS in the 1980s, and suggested that the COVID-19 diagnoses in Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson might be a first step toward this.
And the shutdown of bars and clubs in SF is coming based on recommendations and the negative example of Italy. As McNeil explained:
Italy is playing catch up. They, like us right now, were refusing to take the threat seriously in the beginning. They wanted to keep, you know, the clubs open into the evenings. They didn’t want to play soccer games without fans in the stands. They didn’t want to shut down movement. And then in the North, they discovered that they had a gigantic outbreak that has now got their intensive care units absolutely full up and a lot of people dying. Italy is now number two in deaths in the world. They got 600 dead out of 10,000 confirmed cases.
As of Saturday, there are 21,000 confirmed cases in Italy, and 1,400 have died, and the entire country is essentially on house arrest.
A seven-week closure of businesses in SF will have a material impact on the lives of service-industry workers, and serious impacts for the owners of all of these businesses. This combined with the general economic downturn we are facing and an overall retreat from workplaces and social spaces mean that San Francisco may not look the same when we emerge from all of this — it may have more vacancies than we already have.
Photo: Ivan Cortez