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SF's outdoor dining, other services to close under new stay-home order

Assistant Editor

Outdoor dining, such as this October scene in the Castro featuring drag performer Militia Scunt, right, will end Sunday night in San Francisco and several other Bay Area jurisdictions under new stay-home orders. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Outdoor dining, such as this October scene in the Castro featuring drag performer Militia Scunt, right, will end Sunday night in San Francisco and several other Bay Area jurisdictions under new stay-home orders. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

In an effort to contain the latest surge of COVID-19 infections, San Francisco, Berkeley, and four Bay Area counties are imposing a new stay-at-home order.

The order goes into effect in San Francisco at 10 p.m. Sunday, December 7, and will be in effect until January 4.

"Given the steep increase in COVID-19 cases in San Francisco, we must do whatever is necessary in order to get the virus under control," Mayor London Breed stated in a news release.

"This is about protecting people's lives. We see how quickly it moves and how devastating the effects," Breed added. "We need to do everything we can to prevent our hospital system from becoming overwhelmed and to save lives. We know that the faster we flatten the curve, the less time it takes us to move out of the danger zone. We are taking these actions now in order to contain the spread in our communities, and I urge everyone to take this very seriously."

The other participating counties are Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, and Santa Clara. (Marin County will not be putting the restrictions in place until Tuesday; San Mateo County is conspicuously absent despite having been part of similar joint efforts previously.) The city of Berkeley has its own health department.

The order will close outdoor dining — which many Castro neighborhood restaurants and bars have been offering to stay financially afloat amid the severe economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

It will also shutter personal services (both indoors and outdoors), playgrounds, outdoor museums, zoos and aquariums, drive-in theaters, and open-air tour busses and boats. (Indoor theaters and museums have already been closed due to previous orders.)

"Additionally, San Francisco will halt indoor limited personal training in gyms and limit outdoor gyms and outdoor fitness classes to a maximum group size of 12 people at a time, including instructors and participants," a news release states. "Low contact retail such as pet grooming, electronics or shoe repair services, may only operate in a curbside drop-off context. All other retail, including grocery stores, must reduce capacity to 20%, and all indoor businesses that are open to the public, such as retail stores, must create a metering system to manage and enforce indoor customer capacity."

Terry Asten Bennett of Cliff's Variety on Castro Street, a straight ally, told the Bay Area Reporter December 4 that she read the new order and Cliff's will stay open.

"My understanding is that all retail gets to stay open at 20% capacity," she said. "It's going to be hard. We've been operating at 25% of capacity anyway. We'll just do our best to get good customer service and keep everyone moving. Whether or not people will come out to shop is the real question."

Masood Samereie, a straight ally who is the president of the Castro Merchants Association board, did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but the association did send out a copy of the city's news release to members with the comment, "Castro Merchants is determined to do what we can to support your business and will be initiating other relief efforts as well. If you have any questions or needs where you think we can help, please let us know. We have great connections and are here for you. We are all in this together! Looking forward to better days to come!"

"We support the city in assuring the safety and well-being of our residents, particularly those on the frontlines battling this epidemic," Samereie wrote in an email. "Obviously, this new shelter in place order comes at a very tough time for our members as the holiday season is such an important time for any business.

"Our hope remains that shoppers will think how they can still support these local businesses, whether it is in-store at the reduced capacity rate or online. It is critical that everyone continue to shop local and resist the urge to get holiday gifts at large online retailers," he added. "The survival of our vital San Francisco business corridors depends on it."

Gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

San Francisco had been heralded (https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/04/coronavirus-san-francisco-london-breed/609808/) as a national model of how to address the COVID-19 pandemic. (On October 22, for example, the city had an average positive case number per day of only 34, compared with 140 December 4.)

Due to its good indicators, the city had briefly attained yellow tier status, the state's least restrictive. It avoided the most restrictive measures in the state until November 29 when it entered the purple tier.

Now, the tiers have been replaced, at least temporarily, with a regional approach, Governor Gavin Newsom announced December 3.

Newsom said that the new restrictions will be implemented in regions that fall below an ICU capacity of 15%. Those regions are: Northern California, the Bay Area, Greater Sacramento, San Joaquin Valley, and Southern California. (For purposes of the new system, Santa Cruz and Monterey counties are part of the Bay Area.)

On Friday, the Bay Area counties participating in the local order decided to implement those state restrictions even though they currently have a combined 25.4% available ICU capacity, according to state government numbers.

Dr. Grant Colfax, a gay man who's the head of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, said that COVID-19 cases in the city had doubled in the past 10 days, and tripled in the past three weeks.

Other health officials were also grim in their assessment.

"On October 22, the Bay Area had an average of 475 new cases per day," San Francisco Health Officer Dr. Tomás Aragón said during a news conference December 4 announcing the new measures. "Now, every day, over 1,700 new people in our region test positive for COVID-19. For every positive person that is infected, we know that that person is infecting one-and-a-half other persons. For every case that we do detect, there are six to 10 cases that go undetected. The coronavirus cases are growing exponentially; transmission is widespread. This virus is relentless and unforgiving."

The first stay-at-home order in San Francisco due to the COVID-19 pandemic went into effect March 17.

Updated, 12/4/20: This article has been updated with comments from the Castro Merchants board president.

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