A coalition of Bay Area counties including Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara, as well as the city of Berkeley (which operates its own Department of Public Health) have announced a new potential end date of May 31 for the area’s shelter-in-place order, which is intended to slow the spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19). The new order will allow some outdoor businesses to reopen, but bars and restaurants — even those with outdoor seating — must remain closed, except for takeout and delivery.
As you of course know, the region first announced an order requiring residents to remain home except for tasks deemed “essential” on March 16, a decision that required area restaurants to close their dining rooms and move to a takeout or delivery model, while bars that do not serve food had to shutter completely. That order had a possible end date of April 7, but even then, San Francisco Mayor London Breed said, April 7 wasn’t a hard end date, as health officials expected to re-evaluate as the crisis continued. (The full order can be read here, and a FAQ on the regulations as they apply to San Francisco can be found here.)
On the last day of March, that deadline was extended, this time to May 3. With that extension came new rules for restaurants and grocery stores, including the implementation of a “Social Distancing Protocol” that’s required to be posted at each public entrance. The revised shelter in place further mandated social distancing rules for restaurant takeout areas and kitchens, required taped-off distancing spots for patrons who are waiting in line, and requires grocery stores to place an employee at the entrance to ensure that only a few customers are allowed in at a time.
An additional San Francisco-only order mandated the use of masks for most activities outside the home as of April 17, and specifically stated that workers at grocery stores and restaurants are required to deny service to any patrons who arrive with uncovered faces.
As May 3 approached, Bay Area officials suggested that while some rules like those prohibiting even small gatherings of people might be relaxed, the overall stay at home order would be extended until the end of May, with details to be released some time this week.
Those details came today: At a press conference Wednesday morning, James R. Williams, Santa Clara’s County Counsel said that the new order will take effect at 11:59 p.m. on Monday, May 3, and will extend through Sunday, May 31. That means that the current order will remain in place until Monday, and all the previous rules must be followed until then.
Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County’s public health officer said that the new order “is designed to preserve the progress we’ve made.,” and emphasized that lifting an order too soon could have “grave consequences” for both public health and the economy.
“Our plan is to go slow, learn all we can, and continue to work across all levels..to protect the health of [Bay Area] residents,” she said.
According to a press release from San Francisco Mayor London Breed, “the new orders will include minor modifications, while keeping social distancing, face covering, and other safety measures in place.” Those modifications include the resumption of “all construction,” as long as “specific safety measures are in place,” Breed’s office says.
Another modification involves outdoor businesses, which “appear to be safer to operate,” Williams says. According to Breed’s office, “certain businesses that operate primarily outdoors, such as plant nurseries, car washes, and flea markets” may reopen, as can “outdoor recreational facilities, like skate parks and golf courses.”
Though Breed’s statement didn’t mention restaurants without outdoor seating, the rules allowing reopening don’t apply to food or drink. Speaking with Eater SF, Jenna Lane, the Behavioral Health Communications Specialist for San Francisco’s Department of Public Health, “Businesses like bars, nightclubs, theaters and movie theaters, and other entertainment venues must remain closed for any gatherings,” and will not be allowed to reopen in May.
“Restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, and other facilities that serve food,” Lane says, “regardless of whether they have outdoor seating areas—must remain closed except solely for takeout and delivery.”
At a Wednesday afternoon press conference in San Francisco, Dr. Susan Phillip, the director, of disease prevention and control at the San Francisco Department of Public Health, expanded on the reasons that restaurants must closed while venues like flea markets will reopen. Emphasizing that the guidelines were decided upon regionally, she said that the group determined that transactions like those at a flea market could be conducted with far less contact than those at restaurants.
In addition, Phillip said, even if restaurants can successfully space its patrons, “it’s very difficult to maintain spacing for the server.” In addition, Phillip says, to sit down and eat or drink, people must remove their masks. The combination of spacing, contact time, and mask removal factors is why the decision was ultimately made to keep restaurant takeout and delivery only.
Laurie Thomas, the Executive Director of Bay Area restaurant lobby the Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA), agrees with the decision to keep restaurants closed and says that it’s “the right thing to do.”
According to Thomas, as specific regulations for how things will work in restaurants — stuff like social distancing protocols, or even rules around what kind of dishes or cutlery might be used — have yet to be decided, it’s a “good abundance of caution” to keep restaurant seating areas, even those outside, closed. “We’re all still working out what rules will keep customers and essential workers safe.” Thomas says, “and keeping this order as-is will give us time to determine the safest way to reopen, when we can.”