As U.S. headlines are dominated by a new wave of coronavirus cases, San Francisco prepares to reopen its bars
Update June 26, 11:57 a.m.: San Francisco Mayor London Breed has announced that bars will not reopen as planned on June 29, the full story is here
As expected by city officials, San Francisco’s move to enter the state’s next stage of reopening was approved by California’ health department Thursday, which means that bars may offer outdoor drinking as of Monday, June 29. According to the Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA), the approval also means that restaurants that weren’t previously permitted to serve booze outdoors soon will, as the state Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) is now accepting and approving Temporary Catering Authorization applications, the permits necessary for restaurants that launched outdoor seating as part of the city’s Shared Spaces program to pour beer, wine, and spirits to folks seated on the sidewalk and street.
This is great news for the local bar business, which prior to Thursday’s variance had been left behind in the county’s reopening plans. But for those with an eye on how the deadly virus spreads, this reopening is also cause for concern.
On Thursday, the SF Chronicle reports, the state — including the Bay Area — saw a 75 percent increase in daily cases, and Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties were added to the state Department of Public Health’s watchlist of counties with dangerous surge levels. To the north, Marin County’s outbreak at San Quentin State Prison continues to grow (over 500 cases and one death, as of Friday morning), prompting health officials at UC Berkeley and UCSF to warn that that spike will spread across the entire Bay Area. Incidentally, Marin relaunches indoor dining on June 29, and as of Friday morning officials said that they have no plans to push that date back.
The New York Times reported Thursday that bars, and drinking, are “uniquely suited to transmission of COVID-19,” as alcohol encourages “long conversations” (prolonged person-to-person contact is linked to coronavirus infections) and louder speech (volume increases the amount of saliva droplets — the primary source of infection — emitted during a conversation). There are already practical examples of this issue in Idaho, where a spike in cases was linked to bargoers in Boise, a situation that prompted state officials to roll back reopening this week and shut bars back down.
The same is true in Texas, as Eater Austin reports that all bars in the state have been ordered to close and sit-down restaurants must cut capacity after a surge in infections. Florida’s in the same boat, as Eater Miami reported Friday that the statewide the Department of Business and Professional regulation issued an order closing bars immediately, even though Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said last week that the state would not scale back reopening efforts.
On Thursday, California Governor Gavin Newsom reiterated that California might follow suit if the state’s coronavirus spike continued. “We reserve the right to put a pause to advancing into the subsequent phase,” he said, “and we reserve the right to the dimmer switch,” he said.
But in San Francisco, the reopening lights are on, and only expect to get brighter on Monday, SF Director of Health Dr. Grant Colfax says via a statement sent Thursday evening. “We are grateful for the State’s recognition that San Francisco has been slowing the spread of coronavirus,” he says, confirming that the city will “move up parts of our Phase 2C reopening to include hair salons, barber shops, nail salons, massage establishments tattoo studios, outdoor bars, indoor museums and zoos” to June 29.
“We are also doing extensive work to keep the public safe, especially our essential workers,” Colfax says, noting that the only reason the request to reopen was approved was that SF is “ready to manage a possible surge in cases.” As a surge is already ongoing elsewhere, it seems like it’s just a matter of time before Colfax’s assertions will be put to the test.
And in other news...
- Malatang restaurants like the Inner Sunset’s QingShu, which serve a form of individual-portion hot pot, have proliferated in the Bay Area in recent years, but their hands-on, self-serve style isn’t an option in the pandemic era. [SF Chronicle]
- Three employees at Berkeley tapas spot La Marcha have tested positive for COVID-19, prompting owner Sergio Monleón to close the restaurant for two weeks. It reopens today, following a deep cleaning, safety training for staff, and fewer employees per shift. [SF Gate]
- Chuck E. Cheese’s, a massive pizza and partytime chain first opened in San Jose by Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, has filed for bankruptcy. [Associated Press]
- Double Rainbow Ice Cream, a frozen treat chain that was founded as a single scoop shop on SF’s Castro Street, has returned to the neighborhood. A new Double Rainbow will open two doors down from where it all started in 1976. [Hoodline]
- Holy Land, an Oakland restaurant that serves Israeli and Middle Eastern food, has been besieged by angry online messages from folks confusing it with a Minneapolis restaurant of the same same. The Minneapolis spot is the subject of a boycott after its owner’s daughter admittedly posted racist remarks on social media. The Oakland one is owned by a “Bay Area advocate” who’s been a vocal opponent of racism for years. [SF Chronicle]
- Stacks, the Hayes Valley pancake spot known handing out free coffee to the throngs of waiting breakfast-goers that packed its sidewalks, appears to be closed for good. [Hoodline]
- High-end restaurants in Berkeley are still figuring out a path forward in a world where communal tables and intimate dining can be deadly. “We have friends who’ve turned their businesses into small markets,” says Nate Gabriel, the executive chef at Fourth Street Japanese spot Iyasare. “We have friends doing meal delivery systems. Nobody has hit a home run.” [Berkeleyside]
- According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, San Francisco and outlying areas have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state. But of those unemployed, restaurant workers were the hardest hit, as over half of them have been left jobless during the pandemic. [KQED]