After a very long wait, and just as the beginning of fall brings the potential for rain and chilly nights in the coming weeks, San Francisco restaurants will be allowed to reopen for indoor seating at limited capacity starting Wednesday, September 30. Also allowed open will be places of worship, and later, playgrounds and movie theaters.
This appears to have been part of the plan for at least the past two weeks, after Mayor London Breed and SF Public Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax indicated in mid-September that plans and guidance were being formulated to allow some indoor dining to occur in the city. Today, San Francisco County officially moved onto the state's third or "orange" tier for reopening, and with that and the ongoing, low and steady numbers of new COVID cases in the city, more businesses are going to reopen with caution.
"San Francisco is moving [to another tier] today after a close set of conversations over the past week with San Francisco County health leadership around data and looking at it closely," said California's Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Dr. Mark Ghaly during a virtual news conference.
As of Tuesday, San Francisco had 11,238 cumulative COVID-19 cases, and had been recording between 40 and 60 new daily cases, on average, for the last two weeks.
Under the former "red" tier, SF would have been allowed to permit a limited amount of indoor dining, but Breed and Colfax have stuck to a stricter timeline than the state allows. As of Tuesday, San Francisco became one of just a couple of California counties to move from "red" into "orange" status, after having previously had stricter guidelines in place and more widespread infections.
"Reopening indoor restaurants and houses of worship with limited capacity, and creating opportunities for families to safely enjoy outdoor entertainment are a good step on our road to recovery," said Breed in a statement. "We are committed to following the data and continuing reopening once our local health indicators demonstrate it is safe to do so."
Breed added, "That said, the last thing we want to see is a spike in cases and a need to roll back all the progress we’ve made, so we all need to do our part. Please continue to follow the public health guidelines and participate in these activities responsibly so we can continue to move forward together."
Restaurants with small interior spaces and established outdoor dining may continue doing things entirely or mostly outdoors, given the economics of the situation. And we won't know until later this week or next how many SF restaurant owners are taking advantage of the new rules.
In the Castro, for instance, Frances owner Melissa Perello previously told the Chronicle that she'd be keeping the restaurant closed for now because it made little sense to welcome only 12 guests at a time (25 percent of the 48 total seats at Frances) while potentially putting staff at risk of infection. She said she'd be keeping her Pacific Heights restaurant Octavia closed for the time being as well.
As Eater pointed out last week, the rules for indoor dining were initially even stricter than that 25-percent number indicates — it was 100 people or 25-percent capacity, whichever is fewer, but that included all kitchen and floor staff. The city later flip-flopped on that, and said it was 25-percent capacity, not including staff.
"Growing up I spent many weekends bussing and waiting on tables at our family restaurant," said city Assessor/Recorder Carmen Chu, in a release. "Today, I’m especially excited to see restaurants reopen indoor to create a lifeline during the colder fall and winter months. Together our actions got us to ‘orange’ so let’s keep it going. Let’s keep taking precautions to keep our workers and families safe.”
On October 7, movie theaters in San Francisco will also begin allowing in guests in limited capacity — and, similarly to how it's been happening in Napa and Marin counties this month, masks will be required, in addition to seat assignments and extra space maintained between different household parties, including whole rows kept empty.
The full city reopening plan, which began with retail stores doing curbside business back in May, can be found here.
"While San Francisco recognizes the State’s thresholds, the City will continue on a reopening path based on its local health indicators and unique challenges and successes of our local reopening," the Mayor's Office said in a statement. "Although additional indoor activities are being allowed, it is important to remember that outdoor options remain safer."