After nearly two months of a regional lockdown that restricted restaurants to takeout service only, San Francisco will reopen outdoor dining on Thursday, January 28, Mayor London Breed announced Monday. But other restrictions, including a 10 p.m. curfew, will remain, officials say, and a health order requiring travelers to the Bay Area to isolate will continue.
The announcement follows a surprise move from California’s Department of Public Health, which said on January 25 that the weeks-long regional stay-at-home order and even longer-running curfew was lifted, effective immediately — with the understanding that individual counties would now make their own decisions on how swiftly they would resume activities.
The relaxed restrictions come as, at the state level, officials say that coronavirus infections are trending downwards, and the availability of intensive care unit beds is trending up. According to county officials, “San Francisco’s actual ICU capacity holds steady at more than 25% and its hospitalization and case rates are declining,” which means that it will follow the state’s lead in relaxing some restrictions as it enters the purple (“widespread risk”) tier of California’s color-coded reopening plan.
According to San Francisco’s Department of Public health, as of 8 a.m. on January 28, sit-down, outdoor dining can resume for groups of “no more than two households up to six people.” Each group must be seated at a table that is “spaced a minimum of 6 feet apart.”
San Francisco will also reopen its hotels to tourists, but its 10-day health order, which requires any traveler from outside the Bay Area to quarantine for 10 days, will remain in place. As an effort to enforce that rule, the city’s hotels will only be allowed to accept reservations of 10 days or more from travelers from outside the region.
Also sticking around is a limited stay-at-home order that prohibits any non-essential activities between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. every day. This curfew, which was initially enacted by the state, went into place on November 30. While the state lifted that curfew on January 25, San Francisco officials will keep it around until San Francisco enters the state’s red (“substantial risk”) tier. That rule doesn’t keep folks from leaving the house to, say, walk the dog, pick up groceries, or grab takeout, but it does require restaurants to shutter outdoor dining by 10 p.m. every night. (Bars, wineries, and breweries without food must remain completely shuttered, a rule consistent with the restrictions at the state-set purple tier.)
When asked about the thinking behind the curfew extension at a Monday afternoon press conference Director of Health Dr. Grant Colfax said that “what we’re doing right now is working to gradually reopen the city. We’re taking the initial steps in a situation where the rate of the virus is still relatively high, and we want to see that number go continually down before we release that 10-5 order. So, let’s just give us a little more time and see how those numbers do to ensure that we don’t have to reverse again.”
Those curfew restrictions, which may or may not serve the purpose Colefax hopes they will, will definitely make things harder for restaurants to reopen, says Laurie Thomas, the executive director of SF dining lobby the Golden Gate restaurant Association. Since the curfew means that “all guests will need to be done dining and off premises by 10 p.m.,” Thomas says that “this means that restaurants will, in reality, not be able to take reservations past 8 or 8:30 p.m., therefore severely limiting their ability to do business.”
Curfew aside, in a statement, Breed struck a congratulatory yet cautious note. “San Francisco preemptively adopted the Stay at Home Order in an attempt to bend the curve so that we could protect our residents, control the surge, and move forward again as quickly as possible,” she says, and “we see now the sacrifices that our residents and businesses made are paying off, and I want to thank them on behalf of our City.” That said, “there is still more virus in our community than there ever has been,” Breed says, “and we need to proceed cautiously and remain diligent.”
That cautious behavior Breed’s talking about has been the source of frustration for San Francisco restaurant owners in the past, as the city has frequently chosen a “lag-behind” method of reopening, waiting until the city is in a less-restrictive tier to reopen the activities allowed at the prior level. That change was welcome news to the GGRA, which said via statement that “we appreciate the city’s decision to follow the state’s tier regulations and are thankful the city will allow the reopening of outdoor dining.”
According to the GGRA, there’s still work to be done to establish “clear and workable guidelines that focus on a safe and healthy environment for our employees, guests and community” and they “urge our members and San Francisco residents to follow these regulations that will allow this reopening to be permanent, as any additional closures will have drastic economic consequences.”
Even with outdoor dining back on the menu, the GGRA says, restaurants still have a long way to go before they’re on firm ground. “Outdoor dining will not let us bring all our employees back,” the GGRA says, and it “doesn’t solve all the financial stress, so while we are grateful to have reached this next step on the road to reopening, we continue to strongly advocate for additional federal, state and city financial aid.”
Wear a mask.
Limit gatherings, especially indoors, with people you don’t live with and keep them short.
Ventilate indoor areas when you’re with other people by opening doors and windows. Wash your hands frequently.
Keep yourself and others safe.
— London Breed (@LondonBreed) January 25, 2021