San Francisco's Board of Supervisors on Tuesday debated seeking a variance from the state in order to give the county health officer more leeway in including certain types of businesses in the upcoming phases of reopening.
As you certainly know by now, as of Friday the city moved into Phase 2-B — or Phase Al Fresco, as we're calling it — allowing restaurants throughout the city to open for outdoor dining, with various limitations. And San Francisco is among several Bay Area counties that is using sub-phases within what's been deemed Phase 2, delaying the opening of indoor dining establishments until next month, along with hair salons, barbershops, and realtors. Elsewhere in the state, many of these businesses have already reopened, despite come counties seeing escalating growth in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
Bars, gyms, nail salons, tattoo parlors, massage parlors, playgrounds, and a group of other businesses and services where social-distancing isn't so easy are currently part of Phase 3, which SF isn't currently scheduled to enter until mid-August. And since last month, after these announcements were made, bar owners have been lobbying to have an exception made — especially seeing as many San Francisco bars that offer food will get to reopen in July along with indoor dining.
"It seems like every step of the way we’re being de-prioritized,” says Entertainment Commission President and local bar owner Ben Bleiman, speaking to Eater last week. "We’re being pushed to the back and being left behind and it’s frustrating constantly to have to fight to be treated the same way restaurants are." Bleiman argues that bar owners don't, by and large, have much money to fall back on, and the extra month of staying closed to be a "death knell" for many of them.
It's especially unfair for bars that already have outdoor spaces but no kitchens — only restaurants with outdoor spaces and bars with food service are getting to open, because the state has decided the food component somehow makes things safer.
Now, as KRON4 reports, several supervisors are behind the cause of allowing bars to open in July with safety precautions in place. Supervisor Matt Haney suggests that "our indicators in what we’ve seen allow for that," vis a vis hospitalization and new case rates. And after all, we're only talking about four weeks.
Critics continue to suggest that much of the state has reopened too quickly, and enclosed bars could become vectors for disease.
But bars could also be allowed to join in SF's Shared Spaces program, giving them temporary permits to take over sidewalk, alley, and parking spaces to provide more distancing room for patrons.
"We will be voting ... Tuesday to formally request that the state give us that variance so the chief health officer has a lot more latitude in moving up dates for bars, outdoor dining, indoor dining, you name it," says Supervisor Aaron Peskin, speaking to KPIX. "Unemployment is through the roof. I’m petrified that there’s going to be beloved restaurants that don’t open again," Peskin says.
The item is one of many on the agenda for the Board today, and SFist will update you once we know more.
Update: SFist watched much of the debate and public comment on the matter, which went on for a long, long time. City Health Officer Dr. Tomas Aragon expressed some concerns about being able to efficiently and thoroughly conduct contact tracing in the event that an infected person goes to a bar — but this is not dissimilar to the issues with restaurants.
The supervisors unanimously voted to allow Aragon to seek the variance from the state, and if it is granted — as it has been for dozens of California counties — local officials will be able to dictate which businesses may fall into which phase of reopening.