Much as happened back in June, San Francisco health officials are reneging on a previously announced reopening date for restaurants, citing concerns about a possible surge as the city sees a slight uptick in cases and hospitalizations. So, any hopes that restaurants had of increasing indoor capacity to 50 percent next week are now dashed.
"San Francisco is fortunate that our numbers are low, but we can’t wait until our numbers are so high that we can’t slow the spread,” said SF Public Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax on Friday. “By the time you get high numbers the systems are overwhelmed, as we saw in New York in the spring, in Arizona this summer and the Midwest right now."
“There’s not cause for undue alarm at this point, but we are concerned about the increase," Colfax added, also citing the 40-percent increase in new cases being seen across the country in the past two weeks.
San Francisco has seen an increase of 3 new daily cases per 100,000 residents to 4 new cases per 100,000 this week, Colfax said. And the number of COVID patients hospitalized went from a low of 21 on October 15 to 37 as of Wednesday.
"That may not sound like a lot," Colfax said. "But when this virus starts taking off, it takes off quickly, unless, again, we take efforts to slow its spread."
Colfax said that he and other city officials would continue to evaluate the data, and the soonest we're likely to see the next step in reopening — which was also set to include 50-percent capacity for places of worship, and increased capacity limits for gyms and movie theaters — would be in a few weeks.
SF Health Officer Dr. Tomás Aragón had only conditionally agreed to the new capacity limits back on October 19, saying that the November 3 date was not set in stone and would be contingent on case counts and hospitalizations remaining stable.
The cheery October 20 announcement now looks a lot like a previous announcement Breed and Colfax made in a news conference in late May, when they had pledge to allow restaurants to begin some indoor dining in mid-July, following the opening of outdoor dining in mid-June. That was put on indefinite hold due to surging cases in late June, along with a promised opening date for outdoor bars. Outdoor bars without food service still have not been permitted open (two weeks ago that was teased for mid-November), and indoor dining at 25-percent capacity only began on September 30.
Colfax said that with more workers returning to offices in the past month, and the return of some indoor dining and other activities, a slight rise in cases was "expected."
"Throughout our response to COVID-19, San Francisco has demonstrated our willingness to make hard choices and take reopening carefully and deliberately," said Mayor London Breed in a statement. “Given what we’re seeing in our numbers here as well as across the country and the world, we want to make sure we continue our cautious and deliberate approach."
San Francisco has the highest rate of testing in the country, with over 5,000 tests being administered per day. And we still have the lowest mortality rate of any major city in the country, and a very low test-positivity rate — 0.82% as of earlier this week. In total, 147 San Franciscans have died from the virus to date, and 12,320 have had confirmed infections — though the true infection rate over the last eight months is not known.
"I am confident that, working together, we will again beat back the virus as we have done two times before," Colfax said.