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SF Rolls Back Reopening After COVID-19 Cases Double

  • Over the past three weeks, daily COVID-19 cases have jumped 250%, from 3.7 to 9 new cases per 100,000 residents, triggering a rollback of San Francisco's reopening

  • SF bars and restaurants must halt indoor dining, which were previously at 25% capacity, until further notice. High schools must pause plans for indoor instruction, but reopening plans at elementary and middle schools are permitted to continue

Citing a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases, San Francisco officials opted to scale back some reopening activities and urged residents to remain vigilant as the weather grows colder.

The rollbacks include a halt to indoor dining at bars and restaurants, reduced capacity at fitness centers and movie theaters, and pausing the reopening of indoor instruction at San Francisco high schools that are not already open. Reopening plans at elementary and middle schools are permitted to continue.

“As always, we must listen to the data. The data is now telling us this virus is rapidly traveling throughout our city," said Dr. Grant Colfax, SF's director of health, in a statement. "If we do not take immediate action, we will have the increase in cases and hospitalizations that we have seen in many other cities across the country and around the world, but have yet to experience in San Francisco.”

Three weeks ago, San Francisco moved into the state of California's "yellow" risk tier, and the City announced a new reopening timeline that permitted indoor venues, such as restaurants and offices, to expand their capacities. Just ten days later, the City paused some of those plans after seeing a jump in hospitalizations.

The number of new cases per day, a key indicator of the pandemic's prevalence locally, is the number of daily new cases per 100,000 people. And that figure has jumped 250% over the past three weeks, increasing from 3.7 to 9 cases per day, and the City expects the number of hospitalizations to increase accordingly.

The rollback marks a blow for bars, restaurants and other indoor venues, such as pools and fitness centers. Those venues are deemed higher risk because they necessitate mask removal and produce aerosols that are known to spread the virus, the City says.

“This rollback will be extremely tough for our restaurants and bars who are already struggling to make ends meet," added Joaquín Torres, director of SF's Office of Economic and Workforce Development. "Our economy and the thousands of employees that need and depend on this work rests with each of us to do our part.”

San Francisco Mayor London Breed has dedicated $4 million in funds intended to provide relief to hard-hit businesses.

Those relief measures include $2.5 million in small business fee and tax waivers, $500,000 in grants to help neighborhood businesses set up outdoor spaces, $500,000 in grants for restaurants to reconfigure space, and $500,000 in zero-interest loans for low-and moderate-income restaurant owners.

SF recently expanded the zero-interest loan program, called SF HELP, by $3.5 million. The program was introduced in April 2020, and has funded 227 small businesses so far with a focus on very small businesses with limited access to credit. The $3.5 million expansion is expected to assist roughly 80 additional businesses, with a six-year repayment term for recipients.

With temperatures dropping and the holidays approaching, Mayor Breed urged San Franciscans to "act responsibly" to prevent any further surge, and said that the City is advocating for federal relief for businesses impacted by the virus.

"I am hopeful that in the coming months we will have support from our federal government to support these businesses and the losses they have suffered as well," she said.

The recent election of President-elect Joe Biden has raised hopes that a new stimulus bill, which could direct much-needed relief to businesses, unemployed individuals and local governments, could materialize. San Francisco has received about $154 million in federal relief funds so far.


Image by Jake Buonemani
Image by Rasmus Gundorff Sæderup

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