On the three-year anniversary of the Bay Area’s stunning shelter-in-place announcement, which would be duplicated within days around much of the country, we look back on these three bad years, and the order that was originally only supposed to last for three weeks.
St. Patrick’s Day in the Bay Area will always be marred by the eerie footnote that the original COVID-19 shelter-in-place lockdown went into place at 12:01 a.m. on March 17, 2020, and it was announced the morning of March 16. This was a time when cruise ships were the outbreak vector, we generally called this thing the “novel coronavirus,” and most stunningly, as SFist reported at the time, in the five Bay Area counties shelter-in-place was to remain “in effect until at least Tuesday, April 7,” 2020. If we only knew!
But we did know something scary was in the works the weekend prior, when bars were ordered closed on Friday if they had a capacity of more than 100 and didn't serve food. The shelter-in-place order was announced the Monday morning after that weekend, leading to eerie scenes of urban abandon.
We would quickly learn the definition of “essential business” (a distinction that would be applied to pot dispensaries, after some debate, as well as pharmacies and grocery stores). Restaurants were reduced to carry-out only, and everyone just stayed home and got drunk as hell every night. But we would also coin the term “Covidiot,” as people protested shelter-in-place restrictions (a certain French Laundry dinner had people pretty worked up), and vandalism and theft hit many vacant storefronts.
As we realized this shit was going to last far longer than three weeks, retail curbside pickup would help some of those closed stores reopen. By June, outdoor “al fresco” dining sort-of welcomed us back to restaurants, and liquor stores resumed normal late-night hours. But on the minus side, you had to move your car again for street cleaning.
As we approached the end of that awful 2020, there was hope things were looking up. Trump lost the White House, and the miraculous vaccines arrived days later. But vaccinations were exceedingly difficult to get for months thereafter as the nation grappled with a horrible new COVID surge.
Six months into the vaccination era, Gavin Newsom announced the big June 15, 2021 “reopening day,” along with that nutty million-dollar vaccine lottery prize that many other states duplicated. The reopening announcements would prove foolish, though, as the Delta variant surge would arrive a month later.
That would then give way to the Omicron surge in late 2021, which is still working its way through a parade of subvariants — and even with a bivalent vaccine, people are getting infected on the regular, albeit with less serious consequences for the most part.
COVID-19 deaths have declined precipitously, though more than 1.1 million Americans have died from the virus in three years' time. Still, San Francisco has had the lowest COVID-19 mortality rate in the nation, in no small part because we were so proactive with restrictions, and everyone was very compliant about masking up and getting their shots.
The most horrific parts of these three dumb years are now behind us, but we did get through them.
Because to borrow a phrase from early lockdown times, for better and worse, in sickness and in health, we were “all in this together.”
Top Image: Steven Bracco, Hoodline