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San Francisco Due to Enter 'Orange' Tier, Will Reopen Offices and Other Activities

Updated: Mar 18, 2021

  • San Francisco is slated to move into the "orange" tier on March 24, and could advance to the less restrictive "yellow" tier as soon as three weeks after that, City officials said

  • The orange tier allows for expanded indoor and outdoor activities under the state's guidelines, but San Francisco will take a more conservative posture on reopening than what the state allows

  • As of March 24, nonessential offices can reopen at 25% capacity; indoor dining, retail and other recreation can expand to 50% capacity; and indoor fitness can reopen at 25% capacity. Restrictions on outdoor activities will also relax

  • The City has the capacity to administer 20,000 vaccines per day, once supply increases

  • Once 4 million doses have been administered in California's priority zip codes, the state plans to loosen guidelines to enter the orange and yellow tiers

San Francisco is expected to enter the state's orange risk tier, indicating "moderate" rather than "substantial" spread of COVID, next week. And as the rate of vaccinations picks up, the City could advance into the less restrictive yellow tier within a few weeks, officials said this week.

Under California guidelines, counties in the orange tier can open indoor offices with precautions and expand capacity at restaurants and other indoor venues. In the hopes of keeping case counts low, San Francisco plans to enact slightly more conservative restrictions than what the state guidelines allow.

"Very possibly, we could move into the yellow tier as soon as 3 weeks [after March 24]," said Anne Taupier, acting director at the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development on a call on Thursday.

Effective March 24, permitted activities will include indoor dining, personal services and other recreation at 50% capacity, as well as relaxed restrictions on outdoor gatherings, including larger gatherings with music or multiple households. Bars and will also be allowed to serve alcohol outdoors without meals, with tables of no more than six people. There are no capacity limits on outdoor dining, which reopened last month, and the new guidelines also loosen restrictions on mingling between households. The full details will be posted online on the Department of Public Health website in the coming days.

Non-essential offices will also be allowed to reopen at 25% capacity, and Breed also hinted at the future return of San Francisco Giants baseball and the various music and arts festivals that typically take place in the summer.

"Downtown is so important to the future of the city...and we’re going to do everything we can to bring it back safely," said Mayor London Breed on Thursday.

Between the ongoing vaccine rollout and changing state guidelines, the pace of reopening could hasten in San Francisco and surrounding counties. About 35% of San Francisco residents over 16 have received at least one dose of the vaccine as of March 16, along with 76% of seniors.

Statewide, California plans to relax its color-coded risk classifications if the state is successful in vaccinating residents in a few hundred priority zip codes.

Two weeks ago, California's Department of Public Health and Blue Shield, the state's vaccine administrator, announced a priority system for vaccines that allocates 40% of total doses to zip codes in the lowest quartile of the Healthy Places Index. Two of those zip codes are in San Francisco: 94130, which covers Treasure Island, and 94102, which covers parts of the Tenderloin, Civic Center and Hayes Valley.

Upon the rollout of the vaccine priority system, state officials said that once 2 million vaccines are administered in those priority zip codes, it will loosen the threshold required to enter the red tier. The state crossed that 2 million milestone a few days ago, and has administered about 2.3 million vaccines in priority zip codes as of Tuesday.

One 4 million doses have been administered in those zip codes, the state will loosen the threshold required to enter the orange and yellow tiers, potentially setting the stage for a swifter reopening.

San Francisco opened up vaccine eligibility to a much broader set of people earlier this week.

Effective March 15, residents with certain health conditions and disabilities, including cancer, HIV, pregnancy, mental health conditions, and substance use disorders, can register to be vaccinated. Residents and workers in congregate settings, such as jails and homeless shelters, are also eligible.

At a press conference at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital on Wednesday, Breed was joined by Dr. Grant Colfax, Department of Emergency Management director Mary Ellen Carroll and other San Francisco officials and essential workers, who hailed the City's progress in the pandemic.

San Francisco has among the lowest COVID deaths rates of any major city in the U.S., administered 1.6 million tests, and 94% of patients hospitalized with COVID at General Hospitalthe largest public hospital in the City survived.

Colfax attributed San Francisco's response, in part, to the strong public health infrastructure developed locally during the HIV/AIDS epidemic, similarly a health crisis that was exacerbated by a negligent federal government.

"It really does take a village, and a lot of the people here are that village," added Breed. "We will celebrate soon."


Image by Jake Buonemani
Image by Rasmus Gundorff Sæderup

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