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SF Moves into 'Yellow' COVID-19 Tier, Unveils New Reopening Timeline

  • With a COVID-19 positivity rate of 0.8%, San Francisco has been moved into the state of California's "yellow" risk tier

  • San Francisco announced a revised timeline for reopening offices, businesses and other venues

  • On Oct. 27, offices may reopen at a minimum of 25% capacity depending on space and number of employees

  • Starting in November, indoor restaurants, movie theaters and other venues can expand their capacities to 50%; bars not serving food may reopen for outdoor service in mid-November

San Francisco on Tuesday moved into California's "yellow" reopening tier, becoming the first major urban area in the state to qualify for more relaxed restrictions on restaurant dining, entertainment and other activities.

Mayor London Breed announced a new reopening timeline in a press release, saying that the relaxed restrictions are "a sign of hope for our city and for our economic recovery.” San Francisco currently has a COVID-19 positivity rate of 0.8%, compared to a rate of 3.3% statewide, and 133 total deaths across the city and country.

The yellow tier permits some businesses and venues to reopen at a higher capacity, as well as introducing a gradual reopening of "non-essential" offices.

Starting on Oct. 27, offices may reopen at 25% capacity, or at a higher capacity if the office has fewer than 20 employees and social distancing can be observed. If case rates improve or remain stable, the City will consider allowing offices to reopen at 50% capacity. Indoor climbing gyms and fitness centers may also reopen at 25% capacity next week, along with some indoor personal services, such as waxing, that may require mask removal.

"A thriving downtown is critical to the economic engine of this city…and bringing back workers safely will make a big difference to this City," said Breed at a Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday.

San Francisco's downtown has been hit especially hard by remote-work protocols, with South of Market and the Financial District recording between an 80% and 90% rate of business closures as of late September. The Controller's Office estimates that remote work will reduce revenue from payroll taxes by 10% and gross receipts taxes by 8% this fiscal year.

On Nov. 3, other indoor venues such as restaurants, houses of worship, museums, aquariums and movie theaters may expand to 50% capacity; indoor pools and bowling alleys will also be permitted to reopen at that time, along with more outdoor live performances with restrictions.

Bars not serving food -- which up until this point have been severely constrained in their ability to operate -- will be allowed to reopen for outdoor operations, with certain safety protocols, in "mid-November" according to the Mayor's office. Up until now, bars have been allowed to operate if they either serve meals themselves or team up with a restaurant to do so.

"The food mandate is really hurting bars a lot of them are not set up to serve food, or customers are not interested in ordering food," said Ben Bleiman, founder of the SF Bar Owner Alliance and President of San Francisco's Entertainment Commission. "There are about 400 bar owners [in the Alliance], and every day the conversation is about how hard it is to meet the food mandates, and how if we drop those mandates some might be able to survive."

At the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, Mayor Breed added that the new reopening tier "validates" the City's approach thus far, but underscored the need for continued caution.

"We know [a second wave] still may come and we may not rest until we have vaccine, but we are in a much better place today," Breed said. "The last thing I want to do is to tell someone they can open their business….and then tell them a few weeks later they have to close again. But the good news is our strategy has been working."

Tuesday's announcement also noted that schools are permitted to resume in-person learning, provided that they meet minimum standards required by the state and the City's Department of Public Health.

So far, 56 schools have been approved for reopening and another 92 have submitted applications, according to the Mayor's office.

Image by Jake Buonemani
Image by Rasmus Gundorff Sæderup

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