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San Francisco Shuts Down All Indoor Dining After 250 Percent Increase in COVID-19 Cases

A spike in COVID-19 cases prompted the city to shut dining rooms back down

Restaurants like SoMa’s Green Papaya must close their dining rooms to customers after a COVID-19 spike in San Francisco.
Paul Chinn/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

This is a breaking story, and will be updated as more information is made available.

Six weeks after the city and county of San Francisco reopened restaurant dining rooms, cases of COVID-19 have skyrocketed by 250 percent, city officials say. That’s why, as of 11:59 p.m. on Friday, November 13, 2020, restaurants will be required to shut their indoor dining operations down again, and to revert to an outdoor dining, takeout, and delivery model for an unknown period of time.

There were warning signs that a reopening rollback was on the horizon: On October 30, city officials announced that a November 3 expansion of dining room capacity, from 25 percent to 50 percent, wouldn’t happen after all as coronavirus cases started to increase.

Then at a press conference on Monday, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that in the “last three weeks, we’ve started to see the average number of people with COVID go up, but also the positivity rate,” and that some counties would fall back into a more restrictive level of the statewide color-coded reopening plan. According to Newsom, Since October 19, California’s positivity rate has increased from 2.5 to 3.7 percent.

Because of that uptick, Newsom said that people should “anticipate that we’ll see some counties moving backwards and not forwards,” a warning that came to fruition Tuesday, when Ghaly announced that 10 California counties would move back a tier: Modoc, Siskiyou and Trinity counties would move from yellow (“minimal risk” of infection) to orange (“moderate risk”); Amador, Contra Costa, El Dorado and Santa Cruz counties would move from orange to red (“substantial” risk); Sacramento, San Diego, and Stanislaus counties would move from red to the most serious stage, purple (“widespread” risk).

As of November 10, San Francisco County remains at the yellow stage, but according an announcement made by Mayor London Breed on Tuesday, since October 2, San Francisco has experienced a 250 percent increase in COVID-19 cases, so “the rolling back of certain businesses and activities is necessary to mitigate the aggressive growth of the virus that would cost lives and threaten the capacity of our health care system.”

And though Ghaly said on Monday that the increase in COVID-19 cases was likely due to “private household gatherings,” San Francisco officials say that to stem the COVID-19 tide, the city must “minimize the activities that are known to be of higher risk for increasing the spread of the virus – particularly indoor activities, high traffic activities, and those that allow for mask removal or increase the production of aerosols, such as physical activity and eating.”

That’s why, as of 11:59 p.m. on Friday, all indoor dining in the city, from standalone restaurants, to restaurants inside malls and museums, to food operations inside San Francisco offices, must all cease. (Takeout, delivery, and outdoor dining are still allowed, however.)

It’s news that alarmed the Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA), San Francisco’s lobbying group for the city’s dining establishments. It’s this group that negotiated San Francisco’s “lag one step behind” reopening plan, which allowed indoor dining at 25 percent capacity when the region reached the state’s “orange” reopening tier, and that expected to eventually move to 50 percent capacity as SF remains in the yellow zone.

“We understand the rate of cases increasing (the slope of the curve) is steeper than our last wave in the summer, and that this caused real concerns by Dr. Aragon and Dr. Colfax as to the possibility that our healthcare system could easily become overwhelmed,” the GGRA said via statement. But though “our foremost concern remains with the health and well-being of our community, we do anticipate immediate negative effects” of the reopening rollback, “including more restaurant closures, both short-term and permanent, significant job losses, and numerous employees losing health insurance coverage.”

“With winter on the way, limited indoor dining represented the only real hope for many restaurants to survive the next three months,” the GGRA says, as “the majority of restaurants simply cannot make it financially on takeout alone.” In fact, many restaurateurs that have spoken with Eater SF say that indoor dining at 25 percent capacity is not financially sustainable, and that 50 percent is only a slight improvement.

As part of today’s announcement, gyms and fitness centers will also be required to reduce capacity, as must movie theaters. In addition, high schools in San Francisco that have yet to reopen must “remain closed for any indoor instruction,” the city says.

“I know this is not the news our residents and businesses wanted to hear, but as I’ve said all along, we’re making decisions based on the data we’re seeing on the ground,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed said in a statement. “Right now, our public health officials are telling us we need to take these steps to get the virus under control and save lives — so that’s what we’re doing.”