On Tuesday, Mayor London Breed announced that the city and county of San Francisco had moved into the least restrictive "yellow" tier in the state's reopening framework, becoming the first Bay Area county to do so since the four-color pandemic-response rating system was created two months ago. And with this move, more businesses are going to get to reopen starting in two weeks, and restaurants will get to bring people indoors at 50% capacity — so long as virus numbers stay low.
It's a good-news day in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic as San Francisco marks a long-awaited move into the yellow level of business reopening, marking minimal spread of the coronavirus — even if the city's rules will remain more restrictive than the yellow tier allows elsewhere in the state. As before, the business changes won't take place immediately, and Breed announced that November 3 will be the day when the city takes the next step, graduating to being able to open more non-essential businesses, and allow restaurants to seat more guests inside just as we enter the depths of fall.
"San Franciscans have taken COVID-19 seriously from the very beginning, and thanks to everyone’s commitment to wearing face coverings and following public health guidance, we are able to keep moving forward with reopening," Breed said in a statement, citing SF residents' mask-wearing and generally safe behavior for reaching this milestone. "Today really is a sign of hope for our city and for our economic recovery."
Still she said we "must remain vigilant" in our precautions as cases continue to spike elsewhere in the country, and the virus remains as contagious as it was — even though it has been spreading less widely and less quickly in the city limits in the last two months.
As KPIX notes, this means San Francisco is the first major urban center in the state to achieve yellow-tier status.
As of Tuesday, San Francisco added just 36 new confirmed cases since the day before, a 0.3% rise for a total of 11,937 since the pandemic began, and the city had only 25 people hospitalized with the virus as of Sunday. According to state data, SF currently has a positivity rate of less than 1% (0.8%). Also, with just 133 COVID deaths in the city, we have the lowest per-capita death rate of any major city in the country.
Non-essential businesses that will likely be allowed to reopen include climbing gyms, indoor pools, and bowling alleys, all at limited capacity, and gyms will be permitted to reopen their locker rooms as well in addition to allowing 25-percent capacity inside. Movie theaters will also be able to raise their capacities November 3, however concessions will still have to remain closed and no food or drink will be permitted inside.
Offices will be permitted to return more than just essential workers indoors, up to 25-percent capacity as of next week, October 27 — and the city said that if cases remain low in SF, that may rise to 50-percent capacity by late November.
In big news for the restaurant and bar industry, 50-percent capacity indoor seating up to 200 guests will likely encourage more restaurants to reopen that have been hesitating in recent weeks — with many taking a wait-and-see approach after the city allowed indoor dining at 25-percent capacity in late September. (And this means more tables available at the currently booked-solid House of Prime Rib.) Other rules from the previous tier still apply like no TVs are allowed, but tables will be allowed to linger for up to three hours instead of two.
And, as of "mid-November," bars across the city are set to be allowed to reopen with outdoor service and no food requirement for the first time since March. Indoor bar service will remain banned for the time being.
The pattern of lagging behind the state's guidance by one step is in keeping with how the city has announced reopening stages throughout the summer. As Eater reports, city Health Officer Dr. Tomás Aragón only agreed on Monday to expand restaurant capacity and allow outdoor bars without food, and the two-week delay after reaching the yellow tier is purposeful — he still wants to gauge whether case counts or hospitalizations start to rise after the last set of reopenings took place, with restaurants remaining at 25% capacity until then.
This means the further reopening of restaurants and bars is contingent on the city's COVID metrics remaining low until early November — and it seems likely, too, that we won't see indoor bar service happening unless cases stay very low into the winter and as flu season takes hold.
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