In her daily press briefing, Mayor London Breed said Wednesday that, as suggested last week and based on the last few days of COVID hospitalization data, San Francisco retail businesses could go ahead and reopen on May 18 for curbside sales and delivery, with some guidelines.
"What this means now for our city is incredible," Breed said. "We’re talking about many of those small businesses in various neighborhoods, where you see shops that are closed, they will be able to open for curbside pickup and delivery. This will be incredible for the city."
The stipulation in the city order, which is expected to be echoed in a similar order that takes effect Monday in San Mateo County, is that the business must be connected to the street — so stores inside of malls are still not eligible to reopen.
The Monday changes will also allow manufacturing and warehouse businesses to reopen under certain guidelines — though employers will still have to limit the number of people in the same rooms together, close break rooms, etc., as the Tesla plant is doing in Alameda County.
The good news is that city residents, for the first time since mid-March, will be free to run "non-essential" errands now — shopping for cosmetics, gifts, books, clothes, home furnishings, etc., albeit without being able to do any casual browsing. And one can expect that some stores will start getting creative with sidewalk displays, which could make for some more colorful street life than we've had in two months.
"We are talking close to 95 percent of businesses that unfortunately have been closed," Breed said. "To provide this opportunity to our small business community is going to be incredible, but I want to be clear that there will of course be limitations. There will of course be certain requirements around wearing masks."
Stores will be asked to mark off six-foot perimeters and make sure line-standers are separated, and at produce markets and other businesses customers won't be able to handle merchandise before purchasing.
Director of Public Health Dr. Grant Colfax called the shift on Monday "a meaningful step on the gradual path to the new normal" and "a big step" in the direction of reopening dine-in restaurants, though no timeline has been given for that move yet.
On Tuesday, Governor Gavin Newsom released a document outlining some of the worker- and customer-safety best practices that the state is expecting restaurants to follow when they reopen as part of Phase 2 of the government's plan. And it's a laundry list of items that will be both easy and difficult to accomplish, depending on the layout and size of a restaurant and its kitchen. There are also just some basic aspects of kitchen functionality, like not sharing work stations and wearing masks at all times, that could be difficult to pull off in practice.
As SF chef Mourad Lahlou of Mourad and Aziza tells KRON4, "There is a lot of ambiguity and gray area, the guidelines are not very clear," and he adds, "these guidelines say... people [in the kitchen] should use a face mask, but if you are a cook you are supposed to be tasting your food so how touch your face, take off mask taste food, wash hands put your mask back on its just doesn’t work, it’s not very practical at all."
Non-essential retail has already been opening in other parts of the state since last Friday, following new orders from Newsom. But only a group of 12 more rural counties have been given the go-ahead to reopen malls and dine-in restaurants — which is considered the final step in Phase 2. That list includes Yuba County which jumped ahead and opened a shopping mall last week — and it does not include Solano County, where cases and deaths continue to grow this week, and where an assemblymember suggested dine-in restaurants might reopen this Friday.
Per the Chronicle, and according to a statement released by San Mateo County, county health officer Dr. Scott Morrow will be releasing guidance of his own later this week allowing for curbside retail to reopen.
"The virus continues to circulate in our community, and this increase in interactions among people is likely to spread the virus at a higher rate," says Morrow, who from the beginning of the pandemic has been one of the starkest and most pessimistic among local health officers in his commentary. "Whether these modifications allow the virus to spread out of control, as we saw in February and March and resulted in the first shelter in place order, is yet to be seen."
In comments he made in early March, over a week ahead of the regional stay-at-home orders that began on March 17, Morrow said a number of shockingly prescient things that were picked up by the New York Times for how much apart they stood from what most government officials were saying publicly.
"Government likes to convince the people that they’re in charge and everything is under control and we’ll take care of you — and that’s not true," he said. "You’re mostly going to experience this on your own."
At the time he said that "grinding everything to a halt would cause us more harm than good," but his opinion about that shifted within a matter of days.
"We are entering the period of trade-offs," Morrow said on May 4, when the previous order extending stay-at-home orders through May was issued. "This period will require gut-wrenching decisions, both by policy makers as well as individuals and families, as we slowly reopen certain segments of society. This is a balancing act of the most unprecedented kind. You will have to make your own decisions as to the level of risk you and your family are willing to take on as the restrictions loosen. And your decisions are not yours alone as they will affect others in unpredictable ways."
So, yeah. In other words, don't go dancing in the street just yet. This is just a new and precarious chapter we're moving into.
Photo: Anish B/Yelp