The outdoor parklet was added to Atlas Cafe in the summer of 2020 as the pandemic caused the restaurant to shift to outdoor dining. Photo courtesy of Bill Stone.

As soon as Thursday at 8 a.m., the city will reopen outdoor dining, masked nail and hair salon service, and one-on-one indoor fitness, Mayor London Breed and Director of Public Health Grant Colfax announced Monday. 

Also slated to open: zoos and outdoor museums, tourism hotels, and outdoor gatherings of up to 12 people from three different households as long as masks are on. 

No matter that San Francisco’s covid data is likely to place it in the purple and most restrictive tier — which, according to the state, signals widespread virus transmission. Even the purple tier allows for a much more open city. 

“This is good news. Today, of course, is a celebration,” Breed said, “But this is not an open door” to do whatever people want. “Let’s be safe and keep doing what we’re doing and being smart about who we interact with.”

The reopening comes thanks to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement earlier today to end the statewide “stay-at-home” order. As a result, the state reverted to its color-tiered reopening guidelines. This undid the most recent decision to reopen based on regional intensive care unit capacity, and instead allows counties to reopen based on positivity rate and new daily cases per 100,000 people

Breed and Colfax noted that already open activities can expand their clientele. Grocery stores may ramp up from 35 percent capacity to half; retail can accept 25 percent capacity, not including personnel instead of 20 percent; outdoor fitness classes can more than double, from 12 people to 25; and youth sports will be back on. Religious outdoor gatherings have no cap, as long as all parties are socially distanced. 

However, some restrictions remain in place. San Francisco will continue to enforce the 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, meaning that outdoor dining and bars will have to be packed up by that time. Additionally, the travel order still stands, meaning those who traveled or are visiting from outside of the Bay Area must quarantine for 10 days before interacting in the city. 

The relaxation comes as multiple covid factors in San Francisco appear to be improving. As of Monday, ICU capacity is at 26 percent, new weekly average daily cases have fallen from a high of 372, in early January, to 261, and the reproductive rate number for the virus is 0.95 — meeting the mark of falling below one, thus suggesting slower spread.

Those numbers, however, are starkly different, depending on the community. While the city has a citywide positivity rate of 4.6 percent, ongoing testing at the 24th Street BART Plaza shows an overall positivity rate of 10 percent and a Latinx positivity rate of 11.7 percent.

And Colfax acknowledged that the city has seen better pandemic numbers, which is partially why the curfew will stay put. “We are working to gradually reopen the city,” he said. “We want to see the numbers go down before we release that 10 to 5 order. We don’t want to have to reverse again.”

Dr. Jake Scott, a Stanford infectious disease specialist, said that while the reversion to the county-by-county color tier system and potentially restarting outdoor dining “does seem a little fast,” it’s possible to do so safely depending on how it’s structured and on how rapidly the virus is spreading in each county.

“Do we want to be relaxing restrictions now? It makes me a little nervous, but it depends. I think we should be promoting more outdoor businesses and activities,” Scott said. “People need an outlet and pandemic fatigue is real. I think a lot of restaurants, at least in the Bay, should be commended to be creative and provide safe spaces outdoors.” 

Scott said it is “hard to say” exactly how much more risky outdoor dining is, but it does “go up.” Generally, risk of transmission outdoors is extremely low if people are wearing masks and are socially distant.

But eating requires taking the mask off. And, as winter temperatures persist, Scott worries businesses will rely on outdoor “tents,” which he says basically act as an indoor setting and thus greatly increases the risk of transmission. “Indoor dining should not be an option until at least a significant portion of the community is vaccinated.”

As outdoor dining begins to rev up, restaurant and business owners in the Mission are enthusiastic about drawing in more customers. Outdoor dining was ordered shut down since Dec. 4, when San Francisco and other Bay Area counties initiated a voluntary stay-at-home order in response to a Thanksgiving surge. Then the state put the Bay Area on its “stay-at-home” restriction in mid-December due to regional ICU capacity falling below 15 percent availability. 

SanJalisco Restaurant on 901 South Van Ness Ave. had moved several decorated tables and chairs to the sidewalk when outdoor dining was permitted. It made a huge difference, said a waiter, Arturo, who remembers there were “definitely more customers.” When he and his coworkers caught wind of the change, he said they were excited. This leads to more sales, and more shifts for workers, Arturo said.

“It’ll definitely help us out a lot. As soon as they allow it, we’ll be ready,” he told Mission Local. “As long as everyone follows the health guidelines, we should be safe.”

Atlas Cafe at 3049 20th St., which added a parklet last summer to seat more customers, hopes for a 25 percent sale increase from the change. “It will probably be gradual … especially since it’s colder this time of year,” said its owner, Bill Stone. “I’m very happy and I can be ready to start very quickly.”

Many restaurant workers are excited to go back to work. However, UC San Francisco studies have proven that restaurant and agricultural workers are most at risk for contracting the virus. Meanwhile, the country moves forward with a rocky vaccine rollout. Colfax said that the city and its private healthcare providers have received about 127,000 vaccines, and administered 59,000 of those. The Department of Public Health itself has been given 34,500 vaccines, as of Monday, and administered more than 23,000. The remainder are scheduled, Colfax said. 

Colfax said trouble with supply from the federal government contributes to be frustrating, as the city worries supply won’t meet demand. As of this week, about 10,575 vaccines will be available to San Francisco, but Colfax estimates this could be exhausted as early as Wednesday. 

The 10,575 doses shipment are in the process of being “ready to go out the door right now,” Colfax said, “but we need more vaccine.”

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Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused on local news and immigration. She is a proud Chinese and Filipina American. She has a twin brother that (contrary to soap opera tropes) is not evil.

Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.

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  1. Seems too soon to re-open just now. All things, including data, considered, prudence should be taken into account lest we find ourselves regretting this big time. I would wait until the middle of February at the very earliest or the first week of March at the latest.

    1. Finally! Outdoor dining should never have been outlawed in the first place. It is still ridiculous that retail is at limited capacity – it’s not as if people were packed in like sardines at retail stores before. The current restrictions still amount to a death sentence for many restaurants and retail stores. I hope the privileged people who work from home while advising a longer lockdown are paying the rent of all the service workers whose jobs they have destroyed.

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