San Francisco has returned, for the second and hopefully final time, to the state's least-restrictive COVID tier for reopening businesses, after a six-month struggle through a major pandemic surge. But an expected move for Marin County did not happen today, and it remains in the "Orange."
As of this week, San Francisco has fewer COVID patients (~20) in hospitals than it has had since last June, and the city is averaging 26 new cases per day. Adjusted under the state's metrics based on available testing, that comes to 1.8 new cases per day per 100,000 residents, finally qualifying us for "Yellow" tier status — something we enjoyed for just about three weeks last fall before everything went to shit.
"This is an incredible milestone for us to hit as we move forward on our path to recovery," said Mayor London Breed in a statement. "The yellow tier means that no longer are there any businesses that are required to keep their doors shut in this city, and it means we are continuing to allow more activities to be done safely with more people."
Obviously not every business will throw open its doors all at once, but the steady tide of reopenings is beginning.
As noted previously on SFist, the status change triggers a set of changes for businesses that will not be especially dramatic — except for the restricted reopening of dive bars and other bars without food, at 25% capacity, for the first time since the pandemic began. Those changes take effect on Thursday, May 6, and they also include allowing gyms and fitness studios to open at 50% capacity, and allowing large outdoor events to occur. Outdoor receptions, meetings, and other events can have up to 400 attendees if all can prove their vaccination status — or up to 200 if no vaccination cards are required.
Restaurants can now seat tables of up to eight people indoors — however the capacity limit stays at 50%.
Also, "organized community sporting events" like marathons can occur with capacity limits of 1,500 to 3,000 people, depending on whether vaccination status proof is required.
Late Monday, SF's Acting Public Health Officer Dr. Susan Philip issued new guidance on outdoor mask wearing, effective immediately. Unvaccinated and vaccinated people can now walk outside, and down the sidewalk, without pulling on masks. But everyone still has to wear them indoors in various settings except while actively eating and drinking.
Rollerskating rinks and other family entertainment centers can now open indoors at limited capacity — congratulations to the long-delayed Church of 8 Wheels. And saunas and steam rooms can reopen at 25% capacity.
Also, movie theater concessions are now allowed again, with groups of up to six people allowed to sit together, and eating and drinking allowed inside and outside of theaters.
Still, words of caution came Tuesday from SF's Director of Public Health Dr. Grant Colfax, pointing to outbreaks in other states. "It is essential that everyone take the opportunity to get vaccinated as soon as possible and encourage co-workers, friends and family members to do the same," Colfax said in a statement. "Our optimism is tempered by the rollbacks happening right now in Oregon and Washington as a result of the decline in vaccination rates, variants, and reopening activities."
Still, on the optimistic side, the Bay Area's vaccination rates are higher than nearly anywhere in the country, and almost half of San Franciscans are now fully vaccinated — with 72% of residents age 16 and over having received at least one dose.
Marin County got left back in the "Orange" tier today, and county Health Officer Matt Willis said in a statement, "I know some are disappointed by this, but it’s important to remember why we are taking these measures in the first place. It’s to prevent serious illness and death mainly, and we’ve been very successful there."
Willis says in a statement to the Chronicle that Marin County's relatively small number of new cases are mostly the result of "pandemic fatigue" among the unvaccinated. "If you look at the cases we’re seeing, it’s people cutting corners, doing the things we would not be engaging in two months ago because we were more vigilant," he said.
Marin County has now vaccinated 83% of its population with at least one shot, and the "Yellow" tier may just be one more week away.
In total, there are now seven out of 58 counties in California that have entered the least-restrictive tier. And with similar metrics to San Francisco, Los Angeles also entered the "Yellow" tier on Tuesday. San Francisco now has a seven-day average case-positivity rate of 0.6%, and LA's now o.7%.
The Central Valley, as well as Sacramento and Solano counties, remain in the "Red" tier as case numbers continue to stay persistently steady, while the rest of the Bay Area is "Orange."
Barring unforeseen upticks, Governor Gavin Newsom has said that the four-color tier system would go away on June 15, which is now less than six weeks away.
Previously: A Week Later, SF Officials Say It's OK to Be Outside Without a Mask