San Francisco set to allow restaurants open at 50-percent capacity indoors in two weeks

San Francisco set to allow restaurants open at 50-percent capacity indoors in two weeks
Sociale in Presidio Heights. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
By Jay Barmann - Published on October 20, 2020.

San Francisco entered the state's "yellow" tier as of Tuesday, becoming the first Bay Area county to be in the lowest-level category for COVID spread after spending several weeks in the "orange" or second-lowest level. The positive move, as Mayor London Breed and Public Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax announced, isn't going to immediately impact many businesses. However starting next week and the week after, a large segment of hospitality, personal services, and other businesses are likely going to take a further step toward more normal business levels — and offices are going to be allowed open for non-essential workers as well.

"It’s really our city-wide response from the beginning of the pandemic,” Colfax said in a statement to the Chronicle, praising the city's successful effort to mitigate the spread of the virus so far. "While we have adapted and iterated our response, we’ve always had an infrastructure that has helped us get to this point, from providing testing, to case investigation, to our robust contact tracing programs, the free isolation in quarantine hotels, the food security. This was a public health effort but it went beyond public health."

Echoing that, Mayor Breed said, "San Franciscans have taken COVID-19 seriously from the very beginning, and thanks to everyone’s commitment to wearing face coverings and following public health guidance, we are able to keep moving forward with reopening." And she added that today's reopening announcement "is a sign of hope for our city and for our economic recovery."

Starting on October 27, offices will be allowed to reopen for non-essential workers up to 25% capacity — allowing some people to return to work for the first time since March. 

And starting November 3, assuming case counts and hospitalizations do not spike between now and then, restaurants will be allowed to reopen at 50% capacity indoors, just weeks after being permitted to open at 25%. Restaurants will have to continue abiding by restrictions that include no televisions on indoors, but a current rule that limits diners to two hours at an indoor table will change to three hours.

"We know that indoor dining is still not for everyone, be it diners or restaurants," says the Golden Gate Restaurant Association in a statement. "But as we move into our winter season, this is another critical step in the reopening process that provides real hope for survival for our San Francisco restaurant community."

City officials announced that in two weeks gyms may be permitted to reopen at greater capacity (they are currently only allowed open at 10% capacity), and other non-essential facilities like climbing gyms may be allowed open as well. Also personal services that involve touching the face, like waxing and facials, can resume.

Also on November 3, movie theaters may be permitted to open at greater capacity (they are currently allowed to operate at 25%) though still without food and drink in order to encourage mask wearing at all times. Most large movie theaters in the city have remained closed, however, and may remain so for months, with owners citing the need to sell concessions in order to make any money at all. The economic situation for theaters is made all the worse with most studios having decided to hold back big-budget features from being released.

Later on, possibly the following week or after, the city may finally allow bars to reopen for outdoor service only, without the food requirement. Currently, many bars in the city have reopened with parklets and sidewalk seating but they are bound to a rule that food orders must be placed with drinks — and those that don't have kitchens have struck up partnerships with nearby food businesses, as most Castro neighborhood bars have done.

City Health Officer Dr. Tomás Aragón reportedly agreed to the above reopening timeline yesterday, but it is subject to change if the city once again sees a rise in new COVID cases as it did when similar plans began being made in June. As Eater reports, the ability for bars to open outdoors without food will happen in "mid-November" at a time still not specified, only if SF's numbers continue staying stable.