San Francisco will halt expansion of indoor dining capacity and some reopening measures as the city has experienced an uptick in both Covid-19 case positivity and hospitalizations, Mayor London Breed and the Director of Public Health Dr. Grant Colfax announced on Friday.
Neither public official offered any details on where the increase in cases is happening, who has been most impacted, and – other than the reopening pause – how they are addressing those impacts. They also left the online press conference before taking questions.
Peter Khoury, a data scientist who lives in the Mission District, said cases are increasing across ethnic groups, led by the Latinx community.
The two most impacted neighborhoods according to the city’s covid tracker have been the Mission District and the Bayview.
Initial plans to increase the capacity of indoor dining from 25 percent to 50 percent was shot down in response to a 25 percent jump in case rates during the last two weeks. The city went from three cases per 100,000 people to four per 100,000, Colfax said.
Colfax also called the weekly jump in hospitalizations “concerning.” The rate increased 51 percent and put it on the city’s red “high-alert” per Health Department guidelines.
The Health Department’s goal is to keep the weekly rate of change below 10 percent, because it “reflects the demand put on our hospitals for acute care and ICU beds to care for Covid-19 patients.” Though that may cause alarm, there’s still plenty of space for covid patients at the hospitals, city data shows.
“It may not sound like a lot, but when this virus starts taking off, it takes off quickly — unless, again, we take efforts to slow its spread,” Colfax said. “We want to pause on increasing the capacity of riskier activities because we do not want the virus to get too far ahead of us.”
None of the reopening guidelines already in place will be rolled back, Breed said, and a few will push forward: For example, 25 percent indoor dining will be allowed in museums and drive-in performing events can now have up to six artists.
“Some of the decisions that we made will still move forward, the ones that are already in place and at a few more,” Breed said. “But others will need to take a pause until we see an improvement in the numbers,” Khoury said on Thursday as he helped out at the Latino Resource Hub testing site on Alabama Street. Khoury said he had taken a look at the numbers and the city should be rolling back the opening.
“If we give Covid-19 the chance, it will grow exponentially, doubling and then doubling again,” Khoury said today after the mayor’s announcement. “Since the start of October our collective behavior has loosened enough that Covid-19 has now gotten its foot in the door and is prying it open.”
The R number, showing the reproductive rate of the virus, is now above 1. To control the virus, it must be below 1.
“We reopened too quickly and now need to not just pause the reopening but roll back some of the most recent reopening measures,” Khoury added.
Breed and Colfax underscored how San Francisco continues to do well with the virus overall, and has a citywide positivity rate of 0.89 percent. There are currently 12,320 cases and 147 total deaths. The city still tops all major metropolitan cities in terms of lowest death rates and highest testing rate, and has lower infection rates than New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Denver.
Still, Colfax said he wanted to remind residents that cases have gone up in California by 38 percent and in the country by 41 percent over the past two weeks; Thursday broke the record of highest reported new daily cases, with more than 88,000 nationwide.
It’s unclear if the recent uptick here foreshadows a new surge similar to what the United States midwest and European countries are experiencing. Nevertheless, rising cases is a phenomenon occurring simultaneously worldwide: Germany and France are implementing lockdowns again in response, Breed pointed out.
And though positivity rates are low both citywide and have also dropped in underserved neighborhoods, the latter still confront a disproportionate amount of cases and economic burden.
Other than pop-ups and the established clinics that test only once or twice a week, the city has not yet opened extensive testing in the impacted neighborhoods. Colfax said earlier that they plan to close the fixed testing site at SoMa and move it to the Alemany Farmers Market by Nov. 17.
As Halloween and Election Day loom, the need to adhere to masking and social guidelines will be even more important, Breed said. Earlier in the pandemic, surges followed after holidays like the Fourth of July and Labor Day.
“Sadly, [there] is an uptick in the number of cases because people are choosing to come together and sometimes these parties could become super spreaders,” Breed said, noting she herself will nix the parties, instead opting to dress up and attend a virtual contest for Halloween. “It just takes one person who is infected to infect, you know, all of the people who attended a party.”
It’s highly likely that Election Day this Tuesday will drive crowds of people to voting places. That can be done safely, however, as long as people take the right precautions Colfax emphasized, which he said he had already observed. On Friday morning, Colfax remarked how he saw residents masked up and socially distanced while they waited in line to drop off early ballots.
“Thank you,” Colfax said. “Let’s celebrate safely virtual election parties, small outdoor gatherings limited to three households, and again, please wear those masks.”