SF restaurants won't be increasing indoor capacity just yet as COVID cases rise

A closed restaurant at SFO
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
By Jay Barmann - Published on October 30, 2020.

With daily COVID case numbers and the number of hospitalized patients ticking up slightly in the last two weeks, SF city officials are not moving forward with a pledged date of November 3 for further reopening of businesses.

Mayor London Breed and Public Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax gave a news conference Friday in which they announced that, while San Francisco's case numbers remain some of the lowest in the country, especially among major cities, they are pausing further reopenings out of an abundance of caution. The November 3 date had previously been announced with the caveat that it could be in flux unless case counts remained stable or declining.

"San Francisco is in a good place. We are in the 'Yellow' tier," Breed said. "As a result of being in the 'Yellow' tier, we made some very conservative choices around our reopening efforts. Our reopening and the decisions that have been made focused on when we were in the 'Orange' tier... The last thing we want to do is go backwards. The last thing we want to do is tell a business or a school or someplace that they can open, and then tell them that they have to close. So we're proceeding with caution."

Businesses that Breed and Colfax had suggested may reopen on November 3, including indoor pools, bowling alleys, and gym locker rooms, will remain closed, and previously allowed capacity limits — like 25% indoors at restaurants, and 10% indoors at gyms and movie theaters — remain in place for now.

And Colfax said that new capacity limits may be considered in a few weeks' time, as officials continue assessing the data.

Colfax pointed to a 25% uptick in daily new cases — from 3 per 100,000 residents to 4 per 100,000 residents in the last two weeks — and an increase in hospitalized patients from a mid-October low of 21 to 37 as of Wednesday, as reasons for concern.

"That may not sound like a lot," Colfax said. "But when this virus starts taking off, it takes off quickly, unless, again, we take efforts to slow its spread."

San Francisco continues to have the highest rate of testing of any city in the country, with over 5,000 tests being administered per day. And we still have the lowest mortality rate of any major city in the country, with only 147 dead to date out of over 12,000 confirmed cases.

"San Francisco is fortunate that our numbers are low, but we can’t wait until our numbers are so high that we can’t slow the spread," Colfax said. "By the time you get high numbers the systems are overwhelmed, as we saw in New York in the spring, in Arizona this summer and the Midwest right now."

This pause in reopening is a repeat of decisions that were made in June following a late-May announcement about restaurants, bars, and hair salons being able to reopen. Low case numbers in May led to some confidence on the part of health officials, which was followed by rising concerns as cases ticked up through June — they turned out to be correct in foretelling a spike in cases and hospitalizations that followed in July and August, both in San Francisco and elsewhere in the Bay Area.

While some city restaurants chose to begin seating some diners indoors when they were permitted to do so on September 30, 

Reminding everyone to keep wearing masks in public, and only have outdoor gatherings with a maximum of three households, Colfax concluded, "I am confident that, working together, we will again beat back the virus as we have done two times before."

See all the local COVID case and hospitalization data on SFist.

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