Mayor London Breed gave the green light Tuesday for San Francisco restaurants to begin outdoor, sit-down dining on Friday, three days ahead of the previously announced date of June 15. And a petition by local bar owners is seeking an accelerated schedule for their reopening as well.
Restaurants around the city are gearing up to welcome their first seated customers on Friday, June 12, and many of them will be doing so with newly permitted outdoor dining space on sidewalks, in alleyways, and elsewhere in the normally public right-of-way. It's a compromise that other cities like Berkeley are also allowing so that local restaurants can have something approaching their normal capacity without opening their inside spaces — which as of now they will be allowed to do on July 13.
Face masks will be required for servers, and diners will be asked to wear masks until seated, and limit groups to six or fewer unless they are all from the same household.
Crowded indoor spaces are still going to be places of paranoia and possible contagion in the months ahead, but many California counties are taking the mitigated-risk approach to reopening, expecting that while there may be upticks in cases, there are now preparations — both technological and medical — that will make future outbreaks manageable.
With that in mind, San Francisco bar owners are asking city officials to group them in with bars that serve food (which have been operating as restaurants and doing takeout throughout the pandemic), and let them open with restrictions on July 13.
A petition began circulating Monday, posted by bar owner and Entertainment Commission President Ben Bleiman and local drag personality Heklina, which currently has over 4,250 signatures toward a goal of 5,000. It asks the city to allow bars to reopen, because they will be able to provide a "supervised environment" for patrons to socialize in a responsible manner, with "group sizes strictly enforced."
"One extra month of service might not sound like much," the petitioners write, "but for many bar owners and their employees it's literally the difference between economic survival and catastrophe."
San Francisco and five other counties in the Bay Area have been operating mostly in tandem in their reopening schedules, and have been more conservative in their timelines than the state at large by several weeks. But as more businesses reopen elsewhere, and while case counts and hospitalizations in San Francisco remain relatively steady or trending downward, one can see why cash-strapped bar owners may be feeling impatient.
In the larger sphere of the state of California, Friday, June 12, will mark the reopening of movie theaters, bowling alleys, gyms, and even bars are being permitted to reopen with certain guidelines. This means that by mid-July we should have a good handle on whether these widespread reopenings of entertainment spaces have had a material impact on public health.
But as local chef-restaurateur Mourad Lahlou tells the Chronicle today, "There are so many unknowns right now. The public is ready to go out. The business owners, because of the bleeding financially... are ready to get back to work. But we’re also nervous about what can happen... We have to have a balance."
And as local Cassandra and San Mateo County public health officer Dr. Scott Morrow said in early May, "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... We are entering the period of trade-offs. This period will require gut-wrenching decisions, both by policy makers as well as individuals and families... 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."
Related: Pandemic Updates: 10 New Bay Area Deaths, Study Finds Multiple Virus Entries In CA, and WHO Downplays Asymptomatic Spread