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Bay Area Indoor Mask Mandates May Start to Lift, but It’s Still Masks on at SF Restaurants

In San Francisco, it might be masks off for returning to the office, but it’s still masks on for indoor dining and drinking 

Chef Eric Ehler cooking a dish in the wok, his mouth covered by a face mask Joseph Weaver

With delta cases dropping throughout the Bay Area, health officials are easing the current indoor mask mandate in some places. In a joint statement, a coalition of eight Bay Area counties announced shared criteria for when to retire indoor mask mandates on Thursday. And leading the pack, San Francisco is already moving forward; the mayor and health department have announced they will be easing the indoor mask mandate on October 15 — but only in certain settings. While masks will no longer be required in offices and gyms, masks will still be required in others, including in restaurants and bars. So sorry, dear eaters: In San Francisco, it might be masks off for returning to the office, but it’s still masks on for indoor dining and drinking.

Eight counties in the Bay Area have agreed to the new criteria, so that includes Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Sonoma, as well as the City of Berkeley. Each jurisdiction will decide when to retire their local mask mandate, based on the following criteria: When the jurisdiction reaches the moderate yellow tier, as defined by the CDC, and stays there for three weeks; when the local health officer judges hospitalizations are “low and stable”; and when 80 percent of the total population is fully vaccinated, or eight weeks past when a vaccine has been available to 5 to 11 year-olds. This is a slightly different metric than we’ve seen in the past, which clearly includes school-aged children.

In San Francisco, Mayor London N. Breed and the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) confirmed that provided the numbers stay low, our indoor mask mandate will lift on October 15. But only in certain settings — offices, gyms, religious gatherings, and college classes, among others — and with tight restrictions — those gatherings must meet regularly, have fewer than 100 people, and require proof of vaccination, and children under the age of 12 are not allowed. Masks will still be required in restaurants and bars, except for when you’re actively eating and drinking. So really, this update is about getting people back in the office, it’s not a return to normal for restaurants.

In a statement, Mayor London Breed confirmed the change is an effort to get people back to offices. “This is an important step forward for San Francisco, particularly for our downtown, because when I talk to office workers and business leaders one of the things I continue to hear is that they’re anxious to get back to a more normal routine at work where they can interact with their colleagues,” she said.

This news follows the crest and decline of delta cases across the Bay Area. San Francisco is currently reporting a seven-day average of 36 new cases per day, and fewer hospitalizations and deaths. That’s thanks to high vaccination rates, which have now reached 88 percent of residents over the age of 12, and 80 percent of the total population. San Francisco was the first county in the Bay Area to announce a vaccine mandate on August 20, which officials reiterate has helped reduce counts.

Industry lobbying group the Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA) was glad to see the announcement, even if it focused on offices. “Our restaurants, bars, and cafes in San Francisco’s urban center — including the Financial District — need foot traffic and office workers downtown in order to survive … ” executive director Laurie Thomas said in a statement. “We understand that many will be disappointed that restaurants and bars are not included in the October 15th loosening, but we appreciate the need to protect the health and well being of our staffs and their families (many with children under age 12), as well as our customers and their families.”

It’s been a lot of masks on and masks off this year, resulting in a fair amount of mask confusion for restaurants and bars in the Bay Area. When California fully reopened on June 15, diners were thrilled to remove their masks, but workers still didn’t have clear guidance. And we only got to breathe easy for a few weeks, before the delta variant prompted a Bay Area mask recommendation to come back on July 16, and an official mask mandate that’s been in place since August 3. So while the Bay Area criteria and San Francisco announcement today is good news in terms of restrictions lifting gradually, and getting to go back to work or class, keep in mind that it’s business as usual for restaurants and bars. So please be respectful to servers, bartenders, and other staff, and continue to mask up.