The city and county of San Francisco officially moves into the orange tier today, March 24, as anticipated. Last week, a representative from the SF Department of Public Health outlined the upcoming changes in a webinar, and on March 23, Mayor London Breed and Director of Health Dr. Grant Colfax officially confirmed the date and details with a press release. Effective March 24 at 8 a.m., the city is allowing restaurants to expand indoor dining to 50 percent capacity, allowing bars to reopen for outdoor drinking without food, and loosening other restrictions on indoor and outdoor dining. For the full list of activities that will be opened or expanded, which also include details for offices, gyms, and entertainment, read the release.
“Thanks to the continued efforts of San Franciscans to follow public health guidelines, along with our efforts to vaccinate people as quickly as we can, we’re at a place in our fight against this virus where we can continue to move forward with reopening San Francisco,” Mayor Breed said in a statement. “…We’re expanding more activities and opportunities for San Franciscans to have fun and enjoy their city, and making it easier on our businesses to operate and recover.”
The Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA), the local restaurant lobbying group, expressed delight in getting this news ahead of schedule. “We are pleased to hear that San Francisco is moving into the state’s orange tier this week,” said President Laurie Thomas in a statement. “We are so grateful that the Mayor, Dr. Philip, Dr. Colfax and the Department of Public Health will allow San Francisco to follow the state’s tier regulations, allowing the additional relaxation of regulations around both indoor and outdoor dining. We appreciate the thoughtful way that the guidance continues to look clearly at the distinctions between indoor and outdoor dining and provides detailed information on both.”
The SF Department of Public Health confirmed that COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to trend down in the city, with 31 new cases a day, although the city is only now reaching the levels it held in November, before the holiday surge. The DPH notes that 40 percent of the population in SF has received a first dose of the vaccine, and 77 percent of residents over the age of 65 are in that group. But it also acknowledges the concerns surrounding new variants, and experts still consider indoor dining a high-risk activity. As restaurant workers and now many diners are scrambling to get vaccines, officials reiterate that outdoor activities are safer than indoor activities, and everyone needs to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
Still, the indoor dining jump from 25 percent capacity at the previous red tier to 50 percent capacity at the current orange tier is significant for restaurants, and may tempt more to reopen for spring. Many restaurateurs have shared with Eater SF that they would never be able to make their numbers work by seating only a quarter of the dining room, but with the increase to half of the dining room, some may be swayed. Big, spacious restaurants such as China Live, Waterbar, and House of Prime Rib immediately reopened for indoor dining as soon as it became an option, while others like Dragon Beaux, Kokkari, and Lazy Bear appear to be easing back in, and now taking reservations to seat diners inside.
This might be the biggest news for bars that don’t usually serve food, which have either remained closed for months or hustled to find food partners in order to meet prior requirements. Madeline Wells from SFGate points out that SF’s beloved local dives can at least now go back to serving beers and shots outside, “without an arbitrary soggy French fry in sight.”