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The Entire Bay Area Could Lose Indoor Dining This Week

Three more counties officially banned indoor dining, and even more shutdowns loom

Lockdown Restrictions Lift In Melbourne As Victoria’s COVID-19 Cases Continue To Decline
With coronavirus on the rise, Bay Area counties are shutting down restaurant dining rooms again
Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

The Bay Area’s brief indoor dining boom is over, as Santa Clara, Marin, and Contra Costa Counties announced that all restaurants must move back to takeout, delivery, and outdoor service as of Tuesday, November 17, after a sharp uptick in cases of COVID-19. Those three counties join San Francisco, which closed dining rooms as of November 14, even as other regions, like Alameda and Solano counties, warn that they might also revert to takeout and outdoor service only.

According to California’s color-coded reopening guide, San Francisco’s COVID-19 risk level is yellow, which means that the threat of infection is “minimal.” That means that by state standards, dining rooms can be open at 50 percent capacity, with a maximum of 200 people. San Francisco officials were more cautious, allowing dining rooms to reopen at 25 percent capacity on September 30, but that’s over now: Citing the rate of an increase in coronavirus cases, as well as the upcoming holidays (which, based on the previous data, may prompt a jump), city officials shut indoor dining down last week, even though SF’s case rate is — compared to other cities — still one of the best in the country.

Contra Costa County is currently at the state’s red tier of reopening, which means that residents are at “substantial” risk of infection. That’s a tier that allows indoor dining at 25 percent capacity, with a maximum of 100 people, and Contra Costa County restaurants have allowed diners indoors since September 29. But on Friday, city officials announced that indoor dining must cease this week, and movie theater concession stands must close. That’s because, county health officer Dr. Chris Farnitano tells the Associated Press, “diners at restaurants remove their masks to eat or drink, as do movie patrons when snacking on food from concession stands,” making both higher-risk activities as coronavirus cases continue to increase across Contra Costa.

Marin County officials also announced that indoor dining must shut down on Tuesday. The region is currently in the state’s orange tier, which means that residents are at “moderate” infection risk. That tier allows dining rooms to operate at 50 percent capacity or 200 people, but as of Tuesday, dining rooms in the area will be dark, as city officials say that they expect an increase in COVID-19 cases to move them back at least one tier, KRON 4 reports, including food courts and movie theater concession sales. Speaking with the SF Chronicle, Marin County health officer says that those activities were targeted because “this week there’s been a much stronger sense in the scientific community of the role of indoor transmission in restaurants,” referring to a Stanford study of cell phone mobility information from March to May 2020.

The story’s the same in Santa Clara County. It’s only been open for indoor dining at 25 percent capacity since October 14, and is currently at the state’s orange reopening tier (which allows as much as 50 percent). But it, too, will shutter dining rooms Tuesday, as county health officer Dr. Sara Cody says in a statement that “We know that eating indoors without masks is a very high-risk activity.” Cody also called out private indoor gatherings, saying that “as we close indoor dining, we also strongly urge people not to eat or gather indoors with anyone outside their own household ... We must come together as a community and act now to get the virus under control.”

Speaking with ABC 7, Laurie Thomas, the executive director of SF dining lobby the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, pushed back against these health officers’ claims. “Everyone is like, well, why are indoor restaurants getting blamed? There’s no causal contact tracing showing direct correlation from safely using low capacity — 25 percent or under — indoor dining with ventilation and mask. There are no studies that show that they are a 1-1 causation.”

But despite Thomas’ arguments, more counties are expected to shutter dining rooms in coming days. One such region is Solano County, which has been open at 25 percent capacity since September 22. That’s when it entered the state’s red tier, and it’s remained in the red ever since. According to KPIX, county Supe Erin Hannigan says that California Health Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly let her know that on November 17, the state would roll Solano back into the purple tier (“widespread” infection risk), a move that would shutter its indoor dining operations immediately.

Meanwhile, Alameda County remains in the orange tier, with indoor dining open at 25 percent since October 23. But the Chron reports that “it is also considering ending indoor dining.” Speaking with ABC 7, interim county health officer Dr. Nicholas Moss says that with case rates doubling since early October, it’s likely that the region will drop to the red or purple in coming weeks. If that happens, “the very first thing we would look at is where people are taking off mask and eating,” Moss says, suggesting that indoor dining could end in the area soon.

Up in wine country, case rates are so bad in Sonoma County that dining rooms have been shut since July 13. It’s remained in the state’s purple tier since the color-coded system was introduced, and according to weekly data accumulated by the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, it’s got a long way to go. According to the LA Times, case rates in the area have increased by 93 percent in the past two weeks.

Napa County’s been open for indoor dining since August 31, and as it’s in the orange tier, those dining rooms are currently at 50 percent capacity. But last week, Napa County spokesperson Janet Upton told ABC 7 that it had its highest uptick in cases ever on November 7 and 8, with cases and hospitalizations doubling over 72 hours. The increase could send the county back into the purple tier this week, Upton says, which would shutter indoor dining as of Tuesday, when the state makes its weekly reopening status report.

So far, San Mateo County remains the only Bay Area region that isn’t publicly mulling a rollback. It’s in the orange tier, with dining rooms open since September 22. As of Sunday, it hasn’t released any revisions of its health orders, the Bay Area News Group reports, despite a 121.3 percent increase over two weeks (as reported by the LA Times).

According to Ghaly, “we anticipate if things stay the way they are,” that by this “week over half of California counties will have moved into a more restrictive tier.” If so, there’s a strong likelihood that indoor dining options will be few and far between in the Bay Area by Wednesday — if any remain, at all.