As expected for several weeks though a week later than predicted, San Francisco has moved to state's "Red" tier for reopening businesses, as COVID case numbers have fallen back to levels not seen since before Thanksgiving.
San Francisco recorded 44 new COVID cases on Tuesday, and 36 on Monday, and the new case numbers appear to have stabilized over the last couple of weeks — finally allowing the city and county to move back to "Red" tier status. At issue over the last several weeks was the "adjusted" number of new cases per 100,000 residents, which remained stubbornly high on a 14-day average basis, while SF's case-positivity and equity quartile numbers dipped to "Orange" tier levels.
Joining SF in the "Red" tier is Santa Clara County and Napa County, while Alameda, Contra Costa, Sonoma and Solano counties remain "Purple." Last week, it was San Francisco that was left behind in spite of predictions, as San Mateo and Marin counties, directly to our north and south, both turned "Red."
Under "Red" status, beginning on Wednesday, San Francisco will allow indoor dining at 25% capacity as it previously did in the fall. Also, gyms can reopen for indoor workouts at 10% capacity, and low-intensity group fitness, like pilates and yoga, and occur as well — all with mandatory masks.
Museums and food courts in shopping malls are also allowed back open at 25% capacity.
"I am so proud of San Francisco," said SF's Director of Public Health Dr. Grant Colfax, in a statement. "As we continue to gradually reopen we need to be aware of the risks and to stay vigilant, especially while vaccines remain limited and the growing presence of more contagious variants pose an increased risk of greater community spread."
Dave Karraker, co-owner of MX3 Fitness in the Castro and an outspoken advocate for fitness businesses during the pandemic, notes that the extended closures have hurt all gyms at a time of year when they would typically make a significant portion of their revenue — new sign-ups typically soar in January as people make new year's resolutions to get back in shape.
"Now that we are back at least at 10% capacity indoors, we invite everyone to pivot and commit to St. Patrick’s Day resolutions to help save their neighborhood gym," Karraker says.
He adds that the latest move to "Red" tier status is "good news for employees who were laid off or furloughed during the pandemic and also for landlords. Many of the gym owners lucky enough to be able to renegotiate leases during COVID were able to alter the payment terms to be based on actual revenue or gym capacity."
Back around the new year, San Francisco was averaging 294 new COVID cases per day, and the first week of February it had dropped to 149 new cases per day — still well above the threshold for the "Purple" tier. Still, the city has been gradually emerging from a holiday-season lockdown and curfew, with outdoor dining once again permitted as of late January.
Hospitalizations have also been steadily falling around California and the Bay Area, indicating that the case numbers are not just for lack of testing. Still, it's only been two weeks since the Bay Area's hospital census for COVID patients dipped below 1,000, something it had not done since November. As of Sunday, the Bay Area still had 720 COVID patients in hospitals, with 77 of those in San Francisco.
As SFist noted last week, under new guidance in SF, indoor dining will be restricted to single-household tables — up to four people at one table, all from the same household (which restaurants will be expected to police). Outdoor tables, however, are permitted to hold up to six at a time from three different households.
Given SF's metrics — with an adjusted daily case number of 3.5 per 100,000 residents and 1.5% positivity rate over the past seven days — a move into the "Orange" tier looks to be just around the corner. But vigilance is the name of the game when it comes to masking and not gathering in groups — it remains possible that one of the variants now circulating has the power to cause cases to surge once more, and/or to infect those who have either been vaccinated or have already been infected.
Top image: A limited number of customers eat dinner inside at Claro restaurant on February 12, 2021 in New York City. New rules allow restaurants, bars, and cafes to reopen at 25% capacity due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Scott Heins/Getty Images)