They were the nuptials heard round the world, a summer wedding that has since made headlines in publications around the globe. We’re not talking about a royal marriage ceremony or a scandalous celebrity elopement: This was a fairly standard wedding weekend in San Francisco, but one that has gained international attention after 10 participants fell ill with coronavirus, the SF Chronicle was first to report. Now, as every aspect of the event falls under scrutiny, the restaurant that hosted the wedding party says that it took every precaution to keep the celebrants safe, from reminders to wear face coverings to socially distant seating.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the unnamed couple and at least eight guests from as far away as Nashville, Arizona, and San Diego tested positive for COVID-19 following the July 3-4 wedding weekend in San Francisco. According to the paper, confusion among leaders of San Francisco’s Catholic community meant that the ceremony — which had been planned for Washington Square’s SS Peter and Paul’s church — was abruptly moved to a outdoor basketball court at the last moment, “minus the nearly 100 guests who had assembled.”
The night before, about 40 of those guests gathered at Harborview Restaurant and Bar, a Michelin-recognized, 20,000-square-foot Embarcadero Center dim sum palace. A guest at the rehearsal dinner — which was held on Harborview’s expansive outdoor patio — told the Chron that “masks were not worn, and distancing was not observed,” during the event.
Speaking with Eater SF, Karen Liu, a Harborview spokesperson, could not definitively confirm or dispute those claims, saying only that “from my observations, the guests wore masks or were sitting separately at socially distanced tables.”
“We did everything we could,” Liu tells Eater SF, saying that signs stating mask use requirements were prominently placed throughout the restaurant. “But how much can we do to enforce it?”
It’s a question that’s come up again and again as the pandemic persists. San Francisco laws put in place just days before the fateful wedding place the onus for enforcement of patron mask and social distancing behavior on the restaurant. But, when faced with a group that — according to multiple attendees who spoke to the Chron — insisted on pre-coronavirus behaviors in a mid-pandemic world, what can restaurant staff be reasonably expected to do?
Add to that a likely heightened “my special day” set of expectations, and trying to enforce new and perhaps unexpected rules becomes even more complicated. Despite that, Liu says, Harborview hustled to make things as safe as possible.
Though Harborview dishes are traditionally served family style, these days, everything is individually plated, Liu says, in an effort to avoid shared utensils. In addition, Harborview worked with the wedding party to space each table by at least six feet and separate the guests at each table by family or household unit, with no more than six seated at any table.
“We took every precaution,” Liu says, and if people mingled outside their households, “we assumed that they are comfortable sitting with that group.”
So far, San Francisco officials seem to agree that Harborview did everything right, as the city’s scrutiny has been focused on the church and its abortive plan to hold an indoor wedding despite state and health orders laws. According to a statement from San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, his office will not be citing the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco for holding an indoor wedding despite a cease-and-desist order sent days before. That said, his office is hopeful that the alleged outbreak has “shocked [church] leadership into taking responsibility of the life and death consequences of what’s happening in its churches.”
Harborview continues to serve outdoor diners and the occasional wedding party. None of its staffers were sickened following the July 4 weekend, Liu says, and and its staff checks temperatures daily and maintains a log of the results. After it got reports of the July 4 outbreak, some employees went in for COVID-19 testing, and all came back negative.
“We really do feel that we met all health and safety standards,” Liu says of the COVID wedding, as well as Harborview’s day-to-day operations. “As a business that’s trying to survive this pandemic like any other business, we would not do anything that would risk shutting down or hurting the health of the staff and the community” she says. “If anyone gets sick, we’re ruined.”