COVID-related news got fairly well overshadowed the past two weeks as wildfire season got off to an aggressively early start around the Bay Area. Restaurants already struggling to break even with outdoor dining likely took a hit in multiple counties that were inundated with smoke for days on end. And now restaurant owners in San Francisco are frustrated by yet another mixed message — the city is technically allowed to reopen indoor dining at 25-percent capacity under new state guidelines, but the it remains up to the mayor and the public health department to make that final call.

Hospitalizations are on the wane. COVID-19 cases continue to rise at a steady clip in multiple Bay Area counties, if not at quite the pace that we saw in July. But a key indicator that metrics are improving is the fact that hospitalization rates have been steadily decreasing over the past month. The nine-county Bay Area hit a peak in hospitalizations that mirrored the state's in mid-July, with 1,011 COVID-19 patients in hospitals here on July 23. Since July 31, the number of hospitalized patients has dropped 27 percent, from 963 to 706 as of Sunday, August 30.*

312 COVID-positive patients have died in that same period of time, marking the deadliest month in the region since the pandemic began. But the overall trend suggests that mortality numbers will decline over the next month with far fewer severely ill patients in hospitals.

San Francisco restaurants remain in limbo. New street closures, including a two-week old Sunday closure on 18th Street in the Castro and a new one in the works for Steiner Street in the Marina, are helping are restaurants and bars that serve food to seat more customers outdoors, even though the last two weeks have been pretty terrible on and off due to wildfire smoke. Adding to restaurant owners concerns is a new conflict between state and local guidelines for reopening. San Francisco was officially declared a "red" county in a new four-tiered, color-coded system unveiled Friday by Governor Gavin Newsom. This technically means that restaurants are cleared to open indoor spaces at 25-percent capacity, however the rule of thumb has been that if a county guidelines is stricter, the stricter rule takes precedence — and the SF Department of Public Health still has not given the all-clear for any indoor dining. SF restaurant owners will now be pressuring City Hall to loosen restrictions as they were initially going to be loosened six weeks ago, though another spike in new COVID cases could again derail things.

Meanwhile, as of Tuesday, September 1, San Francisco is allowing hair and nail salons, barbershops, and massage parlors to open for outdoor services.

Napa restaurants reopen indoor seating. The other Bay Area county that has the "red" distinction — meaning "substantial" but not "widespread" virus spreading — is Napa County. And as ABC 7 reports, they will be reopening restaurants at 25-percent capacity indoors as of today.

California hits 700,000 cases; U.S. hits 6 million. The case counts of California and the United States hit new milestones on Monday, with CA crossing the 700,000 mark and the U.S. rising above 6 million confirmed cases, with over 183,000 dead. California is adding about 4,000 new cases daily, and the nation as a whole is adding between 45,000 and 50,000 new cases per day. See all the latest numbers here.

COVID cases are rising in kids and teens. Since late May, according to data gathered by the New York Times, the percent share of COVID-19 cases among children and teenagers has been on the rise in nearly every state in the U.S. As of mid-May, children and teens only accounted for 5 percent of all confirmed virus cases, but as of August 20, that proportion has nearly doubled to 9 percent. And experts warn that while COVID transmission may be less among children and the cases somewhat less severe, "it’s not completely benign" and children are ending up in hospitals in greater numbers. This data comes in just as the school year is kicking off in many states with in-person classes.

Bill promoting tracking of COVID-19 cases in LGBTQ people passes California legislature. A state bill sponsored by Sen. Scott Wiener, SB932, unanimously passed in the state house over the weekend after a considerable delay, and it will require healthcare providers to ask patients with COVID-19 and about 90 other diseases their sexual orientation and gender identity. Patients will be permitted to decline to answer, but the data collected will better help the state understand how this and other diseases may disproportionately affect LGBTQ populations due to underlying health conditions, or higher rates of homelessness. [Chronicle]

Related: Bay Area Coronavirus Information — Updated Daily

*Hospitalization numbers by county are frequently revised between the time they were reported by the state and when the county health department itself reports on final numbers for the day in question.