In case anyone forgot, California is slated to fully reopen on June 15 — a date that sounded far away when the governor announced it back in fully-masked April, but in fact is now next Tuesday. And while the general public may have a general understanding that the tiered color system is going away, restaurants, bars, and other small business owners have been left with questions and concerns. While California can reopen on the state level, San Francisco can still set rules and restrictions on the local level, though the city has remained more or less silent for the past two months.
But finally, SF officials have confirmed the local plan for the full reopening, and what that actually means for restaurants and bars. In a small business webinar from the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD), Mayor London Breed dropped in to announce the good news, and SF Deputy Health Officer Dr. Susan Philip walked through the details: SF will be aligning with the state of California, specifically removing all capacity limits for restaurants and bars, and allowing fully vaccinated diners and drinkers to stop wearing masks — although there is some fine print on masks.
The city is aligning with the state and indoor capacity limits are going away in most settings. That means that restaurants and bars will be allowed to reopen for indoor dining and drinking at 100 percent capacity. The exception is “mega-events,” which is kind of a new concept, set at 5,000 people indoors or 10,000 outdoors, so that would include conventions, concerts, sports, and the like.
The mayor and governor already announced last week that outdoor dining will continue and parklets will be around at least through the end of the year. Governor Gavin Newsom, meanwhile, announced on June 3 that he’s extending that temporary emergency measure, to give more time to a couple of key bills moving through the state senate. At the local level, Mayor London Breed has also proposed making shared spaces permanent in San Francisco, but that’s currently embroiled in discussion. For now, shared spaces and parklets can continue through December 31, 2021.
Masks will no longer be required for fully vaccinated diners and drinkers, a clear move that shows the city aligning with the state. But there are exceptions: The CDC will still require masks on public transportation through September, so mask up before hopping on MUNI. And Cal/OSHA still has not clarified the guidelines for wearing masks in the workplace. So while fully vaccinated diners and drinkers won’t have to wear masks next week, restaurant and bar workers still don’t know. Dr. Philip said this was beyond the powers of the SFDPH, so stay tuned for an update from Cal/OSHA, anticipated in the next week (see note below).
Restaurants and bars will not be required to ask to see proof of vaccination, a detail that was slightly sticky at the yellow tier. They will not be required to do anything extra in terms of cleaning surfaces or sanitization, returning to typical industry health standards. But Dr. Philip also pointed out that restaurants and bars are free to make their own rules, so if they wish to continue spacing out tables, requiring masks, or asking to see vaccine cards, that is completely within their rights. It’s ultimately up to individual proprietors to determine what makes their staff and their customers the most comfortable.
In a sentiment that echoed her comments at the beginning of the pandemic, Mayor London Breed told citizens to be patient with one another and not make assumptions about other people’s decisions to adhere to pre-reopening safety protocols. “We’re finally moving back to some level of normal … ” Breed says. “Let me say this. It’s going to be a big change. The city is coming alive, but not everyone moves at the same pace ... So let’s remember that the last year has been hard on everyone. So have a little patience and have a little grace. If you see someone wearing a mask, and the rules say they don’t need to, just let them be. It’s not anybody’s business if they want to wear their mask. Maybe it’s how they feel comfortable. If someone says they need a little space, give them some space.”
San Francisco fully reopening restaurants and bars is a surreal moment after more than a year of lockdowns and tier changes. Most recently, SF moved into the least-restrictive yellow tier on May 6, when it was the first county in the Bay Area to do so, and where it currently remains. It’s since been joined by Marin, Napa, Alameda, Santa Clara, San Mateo, and Santa Cruz counties, meaning most of the Bay Area is now in the yellow tier for one last week. SF also further relaxed the rules for bars on May 20, allowing drinkers to stand and belly up to the bar.
That’s all thanks to the incredible stats: Dr. Philip once again reiterated that San Francisco is leading the country and the world on vaccination rates. Seventy-nine percent of all eligible San Franciscans have now received a first dose of the vaccine, and we are currently seeing only 12 cases a day, the lowest case counts since the start of the pandemic.
Restaurants and bars owners will likely feel relief, especially heading into Pride celebrations at the end of June. “We are very pleased to hear that the city of San Francisco plans on following the state of California in allowing for a full reopening on June 15th,” said Laurie Thomas, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA), the local industry lobbying group, in a statement. “We are particularly grateful to Mayor Breed, the team at OEWD, DPH, and our Acting Health Officer, Dr. Philip, who have confirmed a week in advance that San Francisco will follow the State to allow businesses to prepare for the changes. We will continue to look to Cal/Osha to clarify its Emergency Temporary Standards for our workers.”
Updated June 10, 2021, 9:50 a.m.: Cal/OSHA held a special meeting on Wednesday, June 9 to reconsider mask rules in the workplace, hearing recommendations from Dr. Tomas Aragon from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and taking public comment. Cal/OSHA will meet again to review the proposal on June 17, but even if approved, the earliest that change would go into effect would be June 28. So restaurant and bar workers in San Francisco and across California do need to keep masking up for work, at least for the next few weeks.