As expected, three more Bay Area counties, including San Francisco, advanced to the "Orange" tier in California's Blueprint for a Safer Economy rating system on Tuesday as new COVID cases reach levels not seen since October.
San Francisco County, along with Marin and Santa Clara counties, all made the move following San Mateo's graduation to "Orange" status last week. That means that half the Bay Area's residents are now in the second-least restrictive tier, which allows restaurants to reopen indoor seating at 50% capacity, and allows bars and breweries to reopen outdoors without food service.
The "Orange" tier also allows gyms to be open at 25% capacity, places of worship open at 50% capacity, and retail stores to return to full capacity — though SF will keep them at 50% for now. The tier allows non-essential offices to reopen with modifications, but in San Francisco, these are still being held at 25% capacity.
All of these changes are effective at 8 a.m. on Wednesday.
The city is now averaging around 31 new cases per day, and in the state's adjusted metric — adjusted based on the prevalence of testing in a county — this translates to 1.7 new cases per day per 100,000 residents. At this rate, SF is almost sure to reach the "Yellow" tier in three weeks, which is the minimum amount of time between movements between tiers. San Francisco's metrics for case positivity (o.8%) and health equity (1.4%) already qualify it for the "Yellow" tier.
"Thanks to the continued efforts of San Franciscans to follow public health guidelines, along with our efforts to vaccinate people as quickly as we can, we’re at a place in our fight against this virus where we can continue to move forward with reopening San Francisco," said Mayor London Breed in a statement Tuesday.
Breed also promised that "Downtown is going to start to come alive again." However with many large employers still encouraging remote work for months ahead, and with Salesforce, the city's biggest private employer, recently announcing an indefinite work-from-home structure for a large swath of its employees, this is cold comfort for downtown business owners that depended on business lunches and foot traffic.
San Francisco is also announcing that more outdoor performances and cultural events can start to happen as of April 1, which is next week. Audiences, though, will be limited to 50 people.
Dr. Grant Colfax, the director of the city's Department of Public Health, said Tuesday that there were still reasons for caution, and a fourth wave of new cases was possible in the city due to more contagious variants.
"We’re ready to be done," he said. "We’re not there yet."
Almost 40% of SF's population age 16+ has gotten a vaccine shot now, with that figure rising to 80% for residents over the age of 65. Half of seniors in SF have now been fully vaccinated with both shots.
"The light at the end of the tunnel is shining brighter every day; we just have to get more vaccine and buckle down a little longer until we reach the end," Colfax said in a release.
In San Jose, which along with the rest of Santa Clara County will also see "Orange" tier changes on Wednesday, bar owners expressed gratitude to ABC 7 about being able to reopen more fully and without mandatory meals.
"It feels like more of a light at the end of the tunnel," said Temple Bar and Lounge owner Tin Le. "So people are optimistic that this will probably be the last shutdown, hopefully, that we all have to endure this year."
Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images