Photo by Lydia Chávez

It’s Friday night and Dolores Park is full: groups are playing frisbee, breaking open  six-packs, sipping wine in a glass. 

“The mayor will get wind of this,” said Police Officer A. Richmond, who was standing on Dolores Street getting ready to head back to her patrol car. 

The mayor on Monday threatened to close Dolores Park if residents failed to follow social distancing.

“This is the last thing I want to do,” said Breed. “We know that people need fresh air, they want to be out. But if we continue to see that behavior become problematic at Dolores Park, it will no longer be available.”

She warned that officers would be monitoring the park. 

And they were. Richmond said that officers and park rangers were trying to keep people safe, to tell them not to drink, to wear masks, and to maintain social distancing. Few were listening. 

Richard, who was in a group of five friends, said he didn’t see the problem if “everyone stays in their own circle.” He then looked around the park and concluded. “There are way too many people here.”

In another group of friends enjoying wine, Cylane said, “we have been inside for one month, we need fresh air.”  One of her friends said he used an app to show what zip codes had COVID-19 cases. “It’s pretty safe here,” he said, seemingly unaware that the Mission District has the highest number of COVID-positive cases in all the city. “People are really conscious of social distancing.” 

In still another group, Alexander and his friends also insisted on the need for fresh air. Yes, officers had dropped by and given them masks. Were they wearing them? No. 

Officer Richmond understood what was happening. “They comply,” she said of the park denizens. “And then we leave and they go back to doing what they want to do.” 

The scene at Dolores Park felt like a split-screen example of what doctors and city officials warned of during a Friday afternoon UCSF town hall that was streamed on Zoom at precisely the same time that the park was filling with people.  

As park denizens tossed frisbees in the air and gathered in groups, their bikes nearby,  Dr. Grant Colfax, the director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, warned that San Francisco is skating on a razor-thin edge of mass transmission.

“We have flattened the curve of COVID-19,” he said. But, “we are really in the second inning of the long haul.”  

He spoke of one number in particular: the virus’s reproductive rate. A reproductive rate of more than 1.0 means that a single person is spreading the virus to more than one person. A reproductive rate of less than 1.0 means the virus is spreading slowly and may eventually stop. Right now, he said, the city’s reproductive rate is between 0.9 and 0.995. 

“So we have a very narrow window,” Colfax said. If San Francisco passes the threshold of 1.0, cases will begin to surge again. 

Dr. George Rutherford, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at UCSF, was also on Friday’s town hall and reiterated points he made on Thursday during the university’s Medical Grand Rounds session. He cited a White House model that showed 200,000 cases and 3,000 deaths per day nationwide come June 1. 

“These are extraordinary numbers — extraordinarily high numbers,” he said. “And I think it behooves us to be really careful about what we do.” 

As some of the worst examples, he showed pictures of hordes of people in Huntington Beach in Southern California. “These things have consequences,” he said, showing spikes in cases in Orange County around the time the pictures were taken in late April, early May. 

Asked what could be contributing to a lack of declining cases in San Francisco on Thursday’s Medical Grand Rounds session, Rutherford said without hesitation and only half in jest:  “Dolores Park.” He named other contributing factors, like out-of-town visitors and transmission among essential workers, but his message about large crowds on sunny days was clear. 

He urged people to socially distance, wear face masks, and engage in only essential outside activities. 

“It’s a direct trade-off … between the economy and mortality,” he said. 

A group of friends enjoying the park. The officers had been by and dropped off masks. Photo by Lydia Chávez.

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Founder/Executive Editor. I’ve been a Mission resident since 1998 and a professor emeritus at Berkeley’s J-school since 2019 when I retired. I got my start in newspapers at the Albuquerque Tribune in the city where I was born and raised. Like many local news outlets, The Tribune no longer exists. I left daily newspapers after working at The New York Times for the business, foreign and city desks. Lucky for all of us, it is still there.

As an old friend once pointed out, local has long been in my bones. My Master’s Project at Columbia, later published in New York Magazine, was on New York City’s experiment in community boards.

Right now I'm trying to figure out how you make that long-held interest in local news sustainable. The answer continues to elude me.

Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

Join the Conversation


  1. I’ve seen groups of 6+ people hanging out, passing a joint and acting like nothing is different. Like those in that photo, people who do this should be ashamed of how selfish they are. I understand why one hid his face! And how can so many say things like “but only 30 people have died” as if those lives are less important than their right to hang out with friends.

  2. Looking at the picture there are lots of small groups, but spaced way more than 6 feet apart. Given that transmission mainly happens indoors (particularly in skilled nursing facilities), it’s getting a little tiresome of all the people trying to shame people for wanting to get outside with a small group of people that they know.

    1. What? The whole purpose of SIP is that you don’t interact with people you cohabitate with. Are you suggesting that all those “small” groups of 6+ people are cohabitating? Or do you not understand the mechanism of viral transmission? Yes, unsurprisingly, the virus is frequently transmitted in poorly ventilated indoor areas, but we have extremely limited data to suggest that it can’t be transmitted outdoors (one study out of china as far as I’m aware). Until that is better understood I don’t think that’s tiresome at all.

  3. Responsible people are micro managed and slovenly transients are allowed free range…. WHAT A SICK AND TWISTED CITY.

  4. Close the park now. This is outrageous. If folks want fresh air, take a walk like the rest of us.

    1. Fascism as in cops stopping by to hand ppl masks and then their advice and masks are ignored?

  5. It’s racist on the mayor part they closed 16th and 24th mission no warning . Dolores Park London breed is begging and pandering to not have it closed

    The arrogance and ignorance of to many americans may prove to be our downfall.

  7. Some of the comments in here are way more scary than those people sitting peacefully in the park

  8. Newsflash: multi-family housing in SF is a thing! Did anyone look closely at the actual photos? They show small, dispersed groups throughout the park. Zoom in and notice the one person walking around in the second photo has her face covered. For the situation to be portrayed by the journalist conflates responsible behavior with reckless behavior.

  9. those doughboys are on their way to the risk cohort. it would be good to get some actual exercise and cut back on the beer and candy

  10. The mayor would be better off enforcing some laws among the hundreds of encampments that are littering the city now. So homeless people can do whatever the hell they want, but everyone else must comply? Screw that. People are sick of the double standard.

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