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SF May Remove Masks Outdoors and Reopen Bars Indoors Next Week

SF is slated to move into the yellow tier on Friday, May 7

Original Joe’s outdoor dining Patricia Chang

San Francisco is planning to move into the yellow tier next week, a change that will be a veritable breath of fresh air for its restaurants and bars. In a small business webinar from the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development, SF Deputy Health Officer Dr. Susan Philip confirmed that the city and county are on track to enter the least restrictive yellow tier next Friday, May 7. That means that fully vaccinated diners may be able to remove masks outdoors, and bars may be able to reopen indoors at 25 percent capacity.

The biggest update is that the city is hoping to ease outdoor mask rules, following the recent recommendation from the CDC that fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear masks outdoors if they are walking, running, bicycling, or gathering in small groups. However, San Francisco is waiting for California to formally align with the advice of the CDC before making any official updates, and overall the SFDH is continuing to encourage outdoor activities, which Dr. Philip says continue to be much safer than indoor activities.

For restaurants with outdoor dining, the yellow tier means that fully vaccinated individuals may no longer be required to wear face masks, provided tables are six feet apart. Unvaccinated people will still be recommended to wear face masks outdoors, and everyone is still required to wear face masks indoors. Indoor dining will hold steady at 50 percent capacity, which may be a disappointment to some, but the limit on the total number of people will go away and tables will be able to seat up to eight people from three different households. Also, buffets can come back, as well as sushi boats and fro-yo machines, provided a metering system is in place.

Similarly, for bars with outdoor drinking, vaccinated drinkers may no longer be required to wear masks, but unvaccinated drinkers will still be recommended to wear masks. And in big cocktail news, bars will be allowed to open for indoor drinking at 25 percent capacity or up to 100 people, whether or not they serve food, and the same will apply to wineries, breweries, and distilleries.

It was a long winter in the purple tier of “widespread risk,” when San Francisco locked down during the holidays. But the city turned a corner in the spring, moving into the red tier of “substantial risk” on March 3, ushering the return of indoor dining, and into the orange tier of “moderate risk” on March 24, easing restrictions on bars that don’t serve food. In early April, there was a slight delay due to a swell of cases and San Francisco was held back from the yellow tier. But now, the yellow tier promises to be the least restrictive of all, indicating “minimal risk.” San Francisco and Marin may be the first two Bay Area counties to enter the least restrictive tier next week. But of course, the color tiers may go away entirely soon — California is slated to completely reopen on June 15, provided case counts stay low.

Dr. Philip said the city was showing low and stable case counts, even with the tier changes and openings, at only 33 cases last week. Hospitalizations have stayed low as well, at only 21 hospitalizations last week. Vaccination rates continue to hit new highs, with the announcement that now 70 percent of adults over the age of 16 have received their first dose, and 45 percent have received both doses. But Dr. Philip cautioned that the SFDPH is weighing the success of vaccines with the unknowns of new variants and keeping a watchful eye up the west coast as cases surge in Oregon and Washington.

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