As Covid-19 cases climb faster than they did at the start of this summer’s surge, on Friday San Francisco will roll back some openings, such as indoor dining, Director of Public Health Dr. Grant Colfax and Mayor London Breed said at a press conference today.
In addition to a curtailing of indoor dining, the reopening of additional high schools will stop, and other indoor businesses like gyms must reduce capacity to 25 percent or 50 people by Friday at 11:59 p.m., Colfax said.
Colfax called the coronavirus spread “aggressive” and “threatening,” as it has increased by more than 250 percent since early October.
Elementary schools and middle schools that have been opened will remain so for the time being, he said.
“We are taking a step back to ensure we can move forward in the future,” Colfax said. “In the long run, we will be safer, but this is difficult, and this is a sacrifice.”
While in early October the city celebrated some of the lowest infection rates since the pandemic began, the joy was short-lived.
The city is averaging nearly 80 new cases per day now in comparison to 32 per day in October.
In the past two weeks, the case rate has increased from 3.7 per 100,000 people to 9 per 100,000 residents, putting it in the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s highest risk category. The Health Department’s goal is to keep new daily cases to less than 1.8 per 100,000.
“This is, unfortunately, consistent with what we’re seeing in California and the Bay Area region,” Colfax said. The state has seen a 29 percent increase in new cases the past two weeks. New daily cases are at record heights nationally, and soaring infections are similarly occurring in Europe.
The R number — which measures how quickly the virus is reproducing — is above one, and has been for awhile. Ideally, the city’s rate should be below one.
Colfax said the R number suggests cases will continue to increase “dramatically in the future,” and that, at this rate, the city may confront up to 300 new cases a day by late December.
The troubling reproductive rate tops what it was back in San Francisco’s summer surge, which suggests that the city may experience an even greater surge this fall and winter without changes to reopening, Colfax said.
“It is entirely plausible that we will face a situation where our healthcare system may become overwhelmed and reverse the current progress we have made all these many months,” Colfax said. “Therefore, our action today is to limit indoor activities.”
This could be a result of complacency, Breed said. “What we are seeing is neighborhoods that are traditionally not impacted by the virus, with people hanging out at some of the bars, and we’re also seeing the mask come off.”
Latinx residents make up 43 percent of city cases in the last two weeks — slightly lower than before, when Latinx cases made up half the cases. Latinx residents account for 15 percent of San Francisco’s population.
Breed again touted the city’s $28 million investment in Latinx coronavirus response, though it is unclear how, when or what that total amount was used toward. As of now, the Latino Task Force, the main group doing testing and offering resources to Latinx residents, has not received any funding.
And testing in the Latinx community remains low, with the Resource Hub in the Mission administering up to 250 tests once a week, less than 5 percent of total tests collected citywide in a day, or 5,701 tests daily.
To address that disparity, the Health Department has shuttered the former CityTestSF SoMa testing site to make way for an Alemany Farmer’s Market location, which is set to open next week.
Highest new case counts are in the Bayview, which has about 40 new cases per 10,000 people in the past month, and in the Mission, which has about 32.5 new cases per 10,000 people, public health data shows.
The indoor dining decision came not long after Hawker Fare, a Laotian restaurant on Valencia and 18th streets, allowed indoor dining in late October. Diego, a Hawker Fare server, said he learned of the change today and is thankful to have a parklet for outdoor dining, though the cold weather may be an obstacle.
“If we are seeing a spike in cases, we have to keep our workers safe,” Diego said. “I think we’ll be able to figure something out. If we can’t, we will have to shut down for part of the winter.”
“Business is going to be down again,” said Quoc Truong, a server at Thanh Tam II Vietnamese restaurant, at 577 Valencia St. Meanwhile, a family sat inside and enjoyed a rice dish.
The mayor highlighted some financial assistance that could lessen the inevitable blow the rollback will have on businesses.
For example, the city designated $1 million in grants to create Shared Spaces to expand outdoor dining, $2.5 million in fee and tax waivers, and has directed part of the recently announced $3.5 million in zero-interest SF Help Loans for low to moderate income residents. She said she also hopes the federal government will provide more support for businesses, too.
“When making these decisions, we don’t make these lightly. We think about every single restaurant, business, and school that hasn’t collected any revenue since this began,” Breed said.
Breed also noted that although the high schools will be rolled back, because high-school students exhibit similar transmission rates as adults, plans to reopen middle and elementary schools “sooner rather than later” are still in motion.
The San Francisco Board of Education looks to move slightly forward on school reopening in the San Francisco Unified School District. The board will vote on a resolution Tuesday that would task them with developing school site assessment plans.
The increase in case numbers comes as no surprise to medical experts, especially considering the dawn of flu season and the country’s record breaking case counts. On Oct. 30, Colfax and Breed caught wind of this themselves, halting further reopening in light of a jump in covid hospitalizations.
This prompted warnings from both before two major, potentially covid-spreading events: Halloween and Election Day. Though it is not immediately clear how infection rates changed after those dates, after this past weekend it appears many masked people gathered, and not all of them socially distanced. Hundreds of people celebrated President-elect Joe Biden’s win in the Castro and Embarcadero this past Saturday, according to KQED.
At Tuesday’s press conference, the mayor and Colfax implored San Francisco denizens to curb unnecessary traveling and indoor gathering, especially as the holiday season comes. As is routine in these conferences, both asked people to continue to abide by health guidelines like masking and social distancing.
“The virus definitely reacts to behavior that does not follow the suggested public health guidelines,” Breed said. “We’re going to have to change, especially during the holiday season.”
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