Mayor London Breed said Wednesday evening that the city may adopt mask and vaccine mandates as the Delta variant continues to surge, and warned that the variant could imperil the fall reopening of in-person school.
“This Delta variant is real,” Mayor Breed said Wednesday evening during a conversation at Manny’s, a restaurant and civic space on 16th Street. “We also have to keep in mind, others can’t [get vaccinated, like those under 12]. They don’t have that option. So part of what I do is also for them.”
Wednesday’s conversation is part of a series, “What We Learned,” in which owner Manny Yekutiel interviews officials and researchers on the lessons learned during the pandemic. On Wednesday, however, both the Breed and Yekutiel acknowledged that the pandemic — seemingly over when the series was planned — was decidedly not over.
Breed said that the Delta variant could possibly derail the school district’s prior commitment to reopen for in-person learning in the fall. “It’ll continue to be a little bit of a challenge with this new variant. Now, I’m not so certain what will happen.”
In a reference to the recall effort directed at some members of the San Francisco Unified School District’s Board of Education, she said that “there are people who are looking for ways to make changes to the school board and the makeup and how decisions are made.”
The effort began after a series of controversies at the school board, including parents’ dismay at the district’s slow pace toward reopening. Breed too said she was among the board’s constant critics.
Community learning hubs, which offered in-person help for students on Zoom, are still running.
Breed also talked about the low vaccination rates among the city’s Black residents.
“My people, Black people, in San Francisco, they have the lowest vaccination rates. I know how it is in my community,” Breed said, underscoring some historical distrust of the medical institution.
She shared that her grandmother was a sharecropper, and how the Tuskegee experiment in Alabama, in which Black men with syphilis went untreated for 40 years in a federal experiment, affected the mindset of numerous families like her own.
“I’ve been having a lot of conversations and arguments, and I have been able to luckily get people that have never been vaccinated their whole lives to do this,” Breed said, pointing to the early opening of vaccination sites in the Bayview and Western Addition neighborhoods.
When an audience member asked Breed’s advice on how to get Black youth vaccinated — previous community incentives like free Giants tickets haven’t worked, so he may try marijuana — the mayor urged him to keep trying. “We gotta keep having these conversations,” Breed said. “It’s going to be tough. We gotta look at some creative ways to do that, and people will judge us, but it’s San Francisco. It’s what we do.”
Yekutiel asked the mayor which pandemic policies would stay. Numerous programs popped up in the pandemic, including Shared Spaces parklets, Slow Streets, and weekend street closures.
Already, Breed said she “signed on the dotted line” to preserve the more than 2,000 parklets developed during Shared Spaces. She praised the Valencia Street closure, which Yekutiel helped launch, but didn’t commit to keeping it or other programs in perpetuity without designing guidelines that would benefit the whole city and without hearing what everyone in San Francisco thinks about it. Well, “almost everyone,” she joked.
Mostly, the mayor wants to maintain her special pandemic ability to streamline the city’s bureaucracy. She bemoaned the empty commercial storefronts, and how the San Francisco Fire Department would crack down on some Shared Spaces parklets that didn’t fit fire code regulations.
“It made me crazy,” Breed said. “I am trying to peel back the onion and get to the core and get rid of things that are unnecessary.”
As a nod to the devastating economic impact on local entrepreneurs, she vowed to find ways to waive all fees for small businesses. Other initiatives like Proposition H helped to ease small business openings, too. “If you have a dream and you have a talent, it should not be so hard,” Breed said.
Also on the table are other methods such as offering businesses grants instead of low-interest loans or negotiating down commercial rent from landlords. But, the mayor said, “There’s not enough money to save every business.”
For her, the pandemic meant turning into a plant mama — she cares for about three dozen plants, she said — and learned to be more zen. She doesn’t read the news right before bed.
Breed’s worst moment of the pandemic was when she had to ask people to shelter-in-place again, especially knowing that some residents just got their jobs back or were looking forward to normalcy. And the best day was the first time no new cases were reported.
She also felt that the pandemic, in many ways, brought out the best of the city. She noted a staff member who took care of multiple elderly neighbors’ grocery shopping and residents who became self-appointed “block captains” to look over their neighborhood.
And in the future, she wants to continue to see that. She dreams of a San Francisco that is like a utopia: “clean, green, I want people to have places to live, I want people to feel safe.”