Even though San Francisco's COVID case numbers have looked about as good as those in neighboring counties San Mateo and Marin, the latter two have advanced to the "Red" tier for reopening as of Tuesday afternoon, while SF is left behind with the majority of California and Bay Area counties in the "Purple" tier.

It's been a frustrating couple of weeks for struggling SF businesses — particularly restaurants and gyms that last were allowed to have customers indoors back in November. While New York City, once a nexus for the pandemic nationwide, has already allowed limited indoor dining for ten days, San Francisco — where case counts and hospitalizations have been decreasing for weeks — likely can begin having indoor restaurants open at 25% capacity and gyms open at 10% capacity starting next week, around March 2.

The specific data driving the state's decisions has never been 100% clear. At issue for SF is likely the fact that the number of new COVID cases per 100,000 residents has not remained in "Red" tier territory for long enough — SF has reported an average of 9.4 new cases per 100,000 residents for the past week, which gets adjusted down to 5.2 due to testing prevalence, but it has not been so low for 14 days straight, with the previous week's average being 46% higher. Still, SF's other metrics, a case-positivity rate of 1.9% and an equity quartile positivity metric of 4.2% would have us in the "Orange" tier already.

Along with Marin and San Mateo counties, Humboldt, Shasta and Yolo counties also moved from "Purple" to "Red" today, and Trinity County went from "Red" to "Orange.

Governor Gavin Newsom hinted in a statement about the updated tier assignments that he expects eight counties to be able to loosen restrictions next week, and "even more still in two weeks." He added once again that there is "a bright light at the end of this tunnel."

As the Chronicle notes, Mayor London Breed also made vague comments Tuesday about more businesses being able to open up next week.

Under the "Red" tier — at least under state guidelines that San Francisco's Department of Public Health hasn't always abided by — movie theaters and indoor museums would be permitted back open at 25% capacity, and retail stores could return to being open at 50% capacity.

The nightmare scenario is that new COVID variants and the slowness of the vaccine rollout lead to yet another surge in new cases, and yet another backslide that city officials no doubt want to avoid at all costs.

But in the balance of keeping businesses from going under, this extra week is likely to be painful — although Breed has frequently said that she wants to give businesses, like restaurants, lead time to prepare for reopening.

You may recall that, under the state's four-color grading system, San Francisco became the first Bay Area county to enter the "Yellow" tier back in October, and initially announced that this would come with opening restaurants at 50% capacity indoors, and allowing bars to open outdoors without food service. But within two weeks cases were rising again, the city had put a stop to indoor dining, and then a week later we had slipped directly from "Yellow" back to "Red" status, and then to "Purple" with much of the state not long after.

San Francisco was scheduled to begin vaccinating people in Phase 1B — which includes restaurant workers, emergency services personnel, and teachers — as of February 24, but it's likely that vaccine supplies will continue to hold up the process. The mass-vaccination site at the Moscone Center has been on pause for more than a week due to interrupted supplies, and it will not return to service until Thursday, February 25.

Previously: Three Bay Area Counties Poised to Move to 'Red' Tier