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San Francisco enters 'Yellow' tier; indoor bars can reopen without food on May 6

San Francisco enters 'Yellow' tier; indoor bars can reopen without food on May 6
Photo: Doc's Clock/Yelp
By Jay Barmann - Published on May 04, 2021.

While many bars across the city have spent money on heat lamps and outdoor patio platforms, and partnered with nearby food businesses in order to abide by public health orders that drinking can only be done with a "bona fide meal" in front of you, the last of those rules for bars goes away starting on Thursday, May 6.

The state updated its Blueprint for a Safer Economy tier statuses on Tuesday at noon, and as has been expected for more than a week, San Francisco qualified for "Yellow" tier status for the first time since it briefly did so in October. Still, when SF became the first urban county in the state to enter the "Yellow" tier seven months ago, the city maintained some stricter rules than the state allowed, out of an abundance of caution. That meant that while indoor bars were allowed to reopen under state guidelines, San Francisco officials opted to keep them doing outdoor service only, with the food requirement that they have had since last July.

For some neighborhood dive bars, they made it work with a food partner. But bartenders used to solely slinging drinks for their regulars — and doing so inside when it's freezing and windy outdoors — can go back to doing so beginning on May 6.

The rule changes also include a rise in indoor capacity for gyms and fitness studios to 50%, and a new allowance for outdoor receptions and events — up to 200 people if no vaccine check is required, or up to 400 people if everyone is vaccinated or shows a negative COVID test. Restaurants remain at a 50% limit inside, but tables can now be seated with up to eight people indoors, and official rules for vaccinated people seated outdoors include no more mask requirement while not eating or drinking — though some restaurants may still choose to enforce this?

Mayor London Breed issued a statement Tuesday saying, "This is an incredible milestone for us to hit as we move forward on our path to recovery. 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."

The city's Director of Public Health Dr. Grant Colfax issued his own statement tempered with caution, saying, "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. 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."

Many city residents are still stuck on the idea that the outside world is dangerous, and for the immunocompromised that perhaps remains true in some contexts. The Chronicle reported on the phenomenon of this ongoing pandemic anxiety hangover this week, and this may keep some people at home for a few more weeks or months, until they really feel like the coast is clear — and until more than half the city is fully vaccinated, which is where we're at today.

"If you think about what’s happening it’s like we’re being conditioned to have a phobia," says David Spiegel, director of the Stanford Center on Stress and Health, speaking to the Chronicle. "The world outside has come to seem very dangerous because it has been. There’s something especially creepy about a virus you can’t see."

But bar owners around the city are finally going to be dusting off bottles and lighting up jukeboxes again — even though capacity limits indoors will be kept at 25%, and technically everyone needs to stay seated.

As Damon Bell, the owner of Blooms Saloon on Potrero Hill, told NBC Bay Area last week, any capacity inside is great. "It's 12 people inside out of the cold. Twelve people sticking around past six or seven o'clock," he said.

Also, bartender Barbara Jo Tice tells the station that she's grateful not to have keep fetching food from another business. "We have to go get the food and ring it up and now we can just serve inside, which is what our customers want anyway."

San Francisco and the rest of the state is expected to further lift capacity restrictions on June 15, which is less than six weeks away. At that time, concerts and nightlife are expected to rebound, with capacity limits relaxed somewhat if masks are worn and vaccination cards are flashed at the door. Specific rule changes, however, have not yet been announced.