While public health experts remain cautiously optimistic about the downward trend in COVID cases in California and elsewhere since the holiday surge, and while 99% of the state remains in the "Purple" tier this week, restaurant owners in the Bay Area are looking for signs that they should be prepping their dining rooms again for low-capacity indoor service.

It's looked for a couple of weeks like San Francisco in particular would move back to the "Red" tier and potentially be able to do some limited indoor dining again, but the move has eluded the county for another week. And as the SF Business Times surmises, given where the numbers are for daily new cases, San Francisco could be opening up indoor dining again by early March, if all goes well.

And, when it comes to two of the three metrics the state looks at for tier assignments, most of the Bay Area would already qualify for "Red" or even "Orange" status, with low case-positivity rates across the region and good grades for equity in testing.

But it's the numbers of new cases per 100,000 residents that aren't falling any quicker than elsewhere across California. The state adjusts this metric by an ever-changing algorithmic "discount," which is based on the number of tests being conducted in a county — in order not to penalize counties where testing is widely available. So, San Francisco's "adjusted" daily case rate is now 8.9, but the actual rate is 14.7 new daily cases per 100,000 residents. This is down from an adjusted rate of 12.5 daily cases per 100,000 on February 2, but the city still needs to be in the 4 to 7 range, on average, for 14 days to qualify for a "Red" tier assignment.

As of Wednesday's numbers, which are actually data from Monday, SF has had 50 to 60 new confirmed cases for three consecutive days, which represents about 6 cases per 100,000 and will pull our average down.

Restaurateurs continue to question the state's methodology for these assignments, as they continue to wait out a winter where no one is allowed to eat inside.

"That discount rate makes a huge difference," says Laurie Thomas of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, speaking to the SF Business Times. She notes that small differences in population estimates are being quibbled, and restaurant owners want more transparency in what drives the change in the discount rate week to week — as it can range from 0.5 to 0.99 depending on testing rates in a county.

Adding to frustrations is the fact that New York City has been allowing some limited indoor dining — albeit in a much harsher winter climate — for several days now, after Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the change would take place on Valentine's Day. And New York was a noted epicenter in this pandemic just 11 months ago, whereas San Francisco's case rates and deaths have never even approached New York's.

There is anxiety, though, about COVID variants and unknowns, and you have health experts like Marin County-based epidemiologist Dr. Larry Brilliant telling people they still should be staying home and even avoiding unnecessary grocery trips — let alone dining out. Brilliant says that he and his wife have barely left their home in months, and he added in an interview with the Chronicle, regarding what the coming months of continued surges and lockdowns could mean, "The psychological letdowns people will have are going to be tremendous."

UCSF's Dr. Monica Gandhi, whose wisdom on viruses many have trusted in the last year, has said that she believes our December/January lockdown would be our last, given the vaccine rollout.

But who can really say?

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