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In an Abrupt About-Face, San Francisco Will Not Reopen Bars As Planned

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The city had just announced its bar reopening plan

Brittany Holloway-Brown

Less than a day after San Francisco’s Director of Health triumphantly announced that bars in the city could reopen for outdoor drinking on Monday, the city’s mayor has pressed pause on the plan, saying Friday that a statewide increase in cases of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) means that any San Francisco reopenings will not move forward

San Francisco had previously announced that it had asked the state for permission to move into the next stage of reopening on June 29, a stage that would open the city’s bars for outdoor drinking and bring back other businesses like hair salons, barber shops, nail salons, massage establishments, tattoo studios, indoor museums, and zoos.

That permission was granted by California’s health department Thursday, and was announced with great fanfare via a press release that evening. But on Friday morning, while speaking at a San Francisco General Hospital event intended to honor healthcare workers, SF Mayor London Breed said that she was concerned about the recent surge in cases, and that plans to reopen the city are on hold.

In a series of Tweets, Breed explained the decision, saying, “COVID-19 cases are rising throughout CA. We’re now seeing a rise in cases in SF too. Our numbers are still low but rising rapidly.” Because of that increase, she says that “we’re temporarily delaying the re-openings that were scheduled for Monday.”

The pause, Breed says, is a way to avoid a second shutdown, such as the blanket shelter-in-place order that drove SF to a standstill in March. “Our public health experts will evaluate the data over the coming days to determine if it’s safe to move forward,” Breed says. “I know people are anxious to reopen — I am too. But we can’t jeopardize the progress we’ve made.”

On Thursday, the SF Chronicle reports, California — 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. That trend reflects a national uptick in cases, as in Idaho, where a spike in cases was linked to bar-goers in Boise, prompting state officials to roll back the reopening of bars earlier this week.

Texas also shut its bar business back down today. According to Eater Austin, all bars in the state were ordered to close Friday. and sit-down restaurants have been ordered to cut capacity after the state saw a surge in infections. The story repeats in Florida, as Eater Miami reports that its statewide the Department of Business and Professional regulation issued an order to immediately close all bars statewide, even though Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said last week that Florida would not scale back reopening efforts.

When contacted by Eater SF, Laurie Thomas, the Executive Director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA), the city’s lobbying group for bars and restaurants, said that their “biggest concerns remain with the health of our workers, patrons, and residents of San Francisco, and we will continue to closely monitor the situation and update everyone as soon as we are made aware.”

According to Thomas, “as of today, outside dining is not affected and San Francisco is still allowing outside dining.” It’s also likely that restaurants that offer outdoor dining will also increase their booze options: Restaurants that weren’t previously permitted to serve booze outdoors would only be allowed to do so with the state approval granted Thursday, and according to the GGRA, the state Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) had started to accept and approve 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.

At this point, it’s unclear what effect the reopening pause will have on the city’s plan to resume indoor dining. With outdoor dining not feasible in all neighborhoods, and San Francisco’s cold and windy summer making an outside meal a challenging proposition, many restaurants had pinned their hopes on July 13, the day sit-down dining inside restaurants was expected to launch. Thus far the city hasn’t given any indication that that date is off, Thomas says. According to Breed, the future of reopening is contingent on continued use of face masks, social distancing, and “good hygiene.”