Restaurant owners have been waiting on pins and needles — and a pile of debt — to be told when San Francisco would allow indoor dining spaces to reopen to the public again. And amid growing pressure from the struggling industry, Mayor London Breed announced Friday that indoor dining may be able to resume by the end of September.
While COVID case counts haven't dropped to nothing in San Francisco, they have fallen significantly since the July-August surge — averaging 67 new cases per day in the last three weeks, and 64 new cases per day in the last week, compared to 96 per day in August. Barring another sudden surge like the one that caused a previously promised date for indoor dining (July 13) to be canceled, the mayor and Public Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax say that restaurants should be able to reopen at 25-percent capacity in about two weeks, without providing an exact day.
"We appreciate our vibrant restaurant community’s sacrifice throughout this pandemic, and we want to thank them for their cooperation and patience that has brought us to this point," Colfax said in a new statement, per the Chronicle. "While health officials continue to monitor the virus, we also need San Franciscans to continue practicing the health and safety precautions needed for us to reopen our city gradually."
On a tour of a COVID testing site in SF's Ingleside District, Breed reportedly said Friday, "I want to make sure we keep these businesses open. I want to make sure we don’t lose the fabric of San Francisco and what makes San Francisco so special."
The latest announcement comes just three days after Breed and Colfax demurred in a press conference when asked about indoor dining, just as hair and nail salons and hotels reopened this week for clients and guests.
Colfax even said that a recent CDC study suggesting a link between restaurants and COVID transmission "gives us pause," which seemed to suggest that an announcement of indoor dining was further off.
But, under current state health guidelines for counties like SF in the second or "red" tier, restaurants would be allowed to operate at 25-percent capacity. It appears, as the Chronicle reports, that Breed and Colfax are keeping the city one step behind the state's rules, and waiting to reach the "orange" tier before allowing this out of an abundance of caution.
Restaurants will be asked to self-certify on a number of safety protocols including face masks for servers and kitchen staff, and tables spread at least six feet apart — with a maximum of 100 people inside or 25-percent capacity, whichever is lower. Diners will also be asked to keep masks on whenever not actively eating or drinking.
"We must work with the restaurants and business owners to implement strong safety protocols that help mitigate this additional risk and protect the safety of our employees, customers, and the community," says SF Health Officer Dr. Tomás Aragón, who has been tasked with crafting each of the city's reopening orders.
Restaurants in SF have been permitted to have dining outdoors since mid-June. This has led to a number of city bars reopening outdoors in partnership with restaurants and food trucks, utilizing sidewalk and street-parking spaces for tables, because bars are not permitted to serve alcohol without also serving food.
Earlier this week, and after gym owners in SF successfully pressured the city to allow their businesses to reopen, it began looking more likely that restaurant owners would follow suit. Local trade group the Golden Gate Restaurant Association has been saying for months that November 1 would likely be a mass extinction date for city restaurants if federal funds or indoor dining didn't happen before then.
Congress still has a $125 billion stimulus bill for independent restaurants that has yet to come to fruition.
As of last week, SFist has counted nearly 70 permanent restaurant closures in the city since the pandemic began, which is likely an undercount.