San Francisco May Expand ‘Safe Sleeping Sites’ for Homeless into Public Parks

San Francisco’s more than 8,000 unhoused people may have a newly sanctioned place to sleep soon: public parks.

In what the San Francisco Board of Supervisors publicly called a “compromise,” the Recreation and Parks Department agreed on Monday to make a list of parks by June 2 where the city could arrange “safe sleeping sites,” sanctioned tent encampments where services would be provided to unhoused people who are allowed to camp there, in a socially distant fashion.

Homeless advocates have for years publicly described Recreation and Parks Department Manager Phil Ginsburg as strongly opposed to allowing homeless people to stay in parks.

In response, Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer, who represents San Francisco’s Richmond District, authored legislation to compel Recreation and Parks to develop a list of safe sleeping sites. But after reaching a compromise with Ginsburg, she agreed to withdraw the legislation during the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Transportation Committee hearing on Monday.

In addition to those park sites, San Francisco’s Real Estate Department will develop a list of “underutilized” city-owned sites where safe sleeping sites could be established.


Last week, San Francisco established a sanctioned tent encampment across the street from City Hall, the first of several such-planned sites that will allow roughly 50 to 90 campers each. However, each of those spaces had to be negotiated individually. City officials hope that they will be able to open up more safe sleeping sites, more quickly, through the parks.

About 8,000 people were homeless in San Francisco as of the city’s last count in early 2019.

— Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez, @FitzTheReporter

Latino Community in Fruitvale Hard-Hit by COVID-19, Study Finds

A recent testing study of COVID-19 in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood has found that the Latino community there continues to be hit hard, with a particular impact to the Mayan immigrant community.

The two-day study tested more than 1,000 people last month, and found 39 with the active virus. But many more people had antibodies, showing they’d already had COVID-19.

About one in 10 people tested positive for the antibodies overall —  that number jumped to more than one-in-four for Mayan-speaking Latinos.

"According to some of the data, [Latinos in Fruitvale] have some of the most crowded living conditions out of most of the groups we've interviewed," said Chris Iglesias with East Oakland-based Unity Council.

"And a lot of them are essential workers. And they're still working."


Iglesias said the pandemic is hurting Fruitvale residents economically as well.

"We started seeing things, almost immediate needs in the community, around just the basics, like food," he said.

Researchers with UCSF, who conducted the study in partnership with community groups such as La Familia, found that over 60 percent of Mayan-speaking people in Fruitvale don’t always have enough to eat.

"The COVID PCR and antibody data confirm that Latinos in the East Bay are disproportionately infected with COVID-19," said Dr. Alicia Fernandez, professor of medicine and director of the UCSF Latinx Center of Excellence, in a statement. "More testing and targeted public health messaging are needed, as are efforts to make essential work safer," she said.

Iglesias and his organization are calling for more support from Alameda County, the state and federal government. Aaron Ortiz, CEO of La Familia, which provides mental health and community support services in the Bay Area, also asked the city and county for more help.

"We are begging you," he said.

— Alex Emslie (@sfnewsreporter)

This story includes reporting from Bay City News.

SF Reopens Over 180 Public Playgrounds After 7-Month Closure

After seven months of closure due to COVID-19, San Francisco officials on Wednesday announced the reopening of more than 180 outdoor playgrounds in the city.

Families and children are being allowed to return to the playgrounds, but with strict new capacity limits and rules in place. Recreation and Park Department monitors will be stationed at the city's busiest playgrounds to educate families about the new rules.

"We know kids and parents have been missing playgrounds since the end of March, and I'm excited that we're now at a place where we can safely reopen them," Mayor London Breed said in a statement. "We hope this brings families and kids some joy during an otherwise challenging time."

As part of the new playground rules, visitors are being asked to limit playground times to 30 minutes when others are present. Additionally, all children must stay 6-feet apart from those who are not in their immediate household.

To preserve enough space, only one adult is allowed to accompany each child on playgrounds. Caregivers are being asked to avoid using cellphones and to supervise their children at all times, and remove them if they start crying to prevent virus-spreading droplets.

All children over two years old are required to wear masks. And children under two must stay within arm's reach of their caregiver and are not allowed to play on structures that hold more than one child at a time. Visitors are also prohibited from eating or drinking at the playgrounds.

"Yes, there are rules," Recreation and Park Director Phil Ginsburg said during press conference Wednesday at Merced Heights Playground. "Let’s all do the right thing so that our children and San Francisco families can be healthy."

Hand-washing stations have also been added at 51 city playgrounds that don't already have restrooms, officials said.

In addition to the reopening of playgrounds, officials also announced that six of the city's playgrounds have recently been renovated under the Let'sPlaySF! initiative, a partnership between the city and the San Francisco Parks Alliance.

— Daniel Montes, Bay City News and Marco Siler-Gonzales, KQED (@mijo_marco)

California's Halloween Guidance: No Trick-or-Treating, No Parties

Please don’t go trick-or-treating, state public health officials urged Californians on Tuesday. And no Halloween parties, either, as both present a high risk of spreading COVID-19.

“The whole act of going door-to-door in groups, ringing doorbells, digging into buckets of delicious candy … create a risk of spreading COVID-19,” said California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly at a press briefing Tuesday afternoon.

In addition, should a COVID-19 case turn up, it would be very difficult to conduct adequate contact tracing, Ghaly added.

The safest way to celebrate is at home or virtually, public health officials said. Here’s a list of ideas state officials offered, both for celebrating Halloween and observing Día de los Muertos safely during the pandemic:

  • Create a haunted house at home or decorate your home and yard
  • Conduct a candy hunt in your home or yard (see the advice on small gatherings below)
  • Face painting and pumpkin carving
  • Design face masks that match your Halloween costumes
  • Hold an online costume or pumpkin carving contest
  • Do car-based outings, like a drive-in movie or tour displays in your car
  • Visit a Día de los Muertos themed art exhibit at an outdoor museum
  • Create an altar outside or in a front window so others can view it at a safe distance or create a virtual altar
  • If visiting a cemetery, wear masks and practice physical distancing


In an acknowledgement that the fall brings with it many celebrations, Dr. Ghaly reiterated newly-issued guidance for small gatherings:

  • Gatherings should include no more than three separate households
  • Gatherings should be outdoors
  • Gatherings should be limited to two hours

“As we enter into the weeks before Halloween and then into the other fall holidays and winter holidays, thank you all for continuing to work with us,” Ghaly said. “I know it's difficult.”

Also announced Tuesday, the following counties were given permission to move into the state's less restrictive color-coded tiers that govern which businesses and activities can resume:

  • Moving into the red tier for “substantial risk”: Colusa, Kern, Kings, San Benito, Sutter and Stanislaus counties
  • Moving into the orange tier for “moderate risk”: Alameda, Placer and Santa Clara counties
  • Moving into the yellow tier for “minimal risk”: Sierra County

— Monica Lam (@monicazlam)

California Weighs Reopening Theme Parks as COVID-19 Hospitalization Rates Decline

With fall holidays around the corner, Gov. Gavin Newsom addressed questions about when theme parks — Disneyland in particular — will reopen by saying his administration is sending teams on “insight visits” for “deeper collaboration” with representatives from other parks, such as Florida’s Disney World, which reopened in July.

During a press briefing Monday, Newsom also said that guidelines for how to celebrate Halloween safely would be released on Tuesday.

Over the past two weeks, California saw an 8% drop in the number of hospital admissions due to COVID-19, while intensive care unit (ICU) admissions dropped even further, by 13%.

Statewide, the rate of positive test results is declining slightly, averaging 2.6% over the past 14 days. In another sign of progress, 42 counties are no longer in the state's most restrictive “purple tier” governing how many business can reopen.


California has now trained over 10,890 contact tracers — among them, more than 1,800 who are bilingual in a range of languages from Spanish to Hmong, state officials said Monday.

According to state health and human services secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly, more than 125,000 tests are being performed daily on average, with 90% getting results within 48 hours. In the case of a positive result, 97% of local health departments have been able to get in touch with a person’s contacts on the same day, he added.

— Monica Lam (@monicazlam)

California Adds 'Health Equity' to COVID-19 Metrics for Reopening

California health officials have added a new metric for assessing whether counties are doing enough to contain the spread of COVID-19. A new "health equity metric,” effective Tuesday, will examine rates of infection in communities that have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus.

“Low-income, Latino, Black and Pacific Islanders have been hardest hit” by the pandemic, said state epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan in a presentation Tuesday.

The new metric assesses the rate of COVID-19 infections in census tracts that have been identified as having less healthy conditions, as measured by the Healthy Places Index. The index generates a score based on factors such as access to health care, housing density, crowding and air pollution.

Counties are currently placed in color-coded tiers based on the number of COVID-19 cases and the rate of testing per population. The new equity metric adds an additional requirement for counties wishing to move into less restrictive tiers, where more businesses can reopen and activities can resume.

Counties that have marked disparities in COVID-19 rates among different census tracts must submit a plan for improvement, including through increased testing, contact tracing, education and outreach.


The following counties were given permission to move into less restrictive tiers Tuesday:

  • Merced, Ventura and Yuba counties are moving into the red tier for “substantial risk”
  • Inyo County is moving into the orange tier for “moderate risk”
  • Humboldt, Plumas, Siskiyou and Trinity counties are moving into the yellow tier for “minimal risk”

Two counties are moving back into more restrictive tiers:

  • Shasta County is moving back to the red tier
  • Tehama County is moving back to the purple tier

— Monica Lam (@monicazlam)

San Francisco Opens New Outdoor Voting Center

Early voting in San Francisco is normally done inside City Hall, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, the city has created an outdoor voting center where voters can cast their ballots starting Monday, Oct. 5.

Located at 99 Grove Street in front of the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, the voting center features large tents with rows of voting booths.

Voters can also drive to the center and vote curbside without getting out of their vehicles.

“We want to make sure that people feel comfortable. If they need to vote early, they can come to this voting center,” Mayor London Breed said during a press conference Thursday. “If they want to vote on Election Day or drop off their ballots on Election Day, we're going to have 588 locations all over the city.”

Health and safety protocols will be in place at all voting locations, including mandatory facial coverings, social distancing and cleaning of booths throughout the day.

Also new this year, all registered voters in California will receive mail-in ballots — not just those who requested them. Ballots will start arriving as early as this weekend, according to San Francisco’s Director of the Department of Elections John Arntz.

“What this is really about is options,” state Sen. Scott Wiener said at Thursday's press conference. “Everyone has different concerns. Everyone has different health statuses or people in their homes with different health statuses, and we want people to be able to make choices that work for them.”

San Francisco voters can track the status of their ballot online through the city’s voter portal.

For more information about how to vote this year, check out this KQED guide.

— Julie Chang (@bayareajulie)


Pandemic Dining: San Francisco Allows Indoor Dining, Releases Guidelines

San Francisco restaurants are allowed to have indoor dining starting today, Sept. 30. The San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) released interim guidance for both indoor and outdoor dining today, which stipulates reopening based on a tier system linked to COVID-19 case numbers.

Both indoor and outdoor dining rules could change depending on spikes or dips of COVID cases. If cases increase to red or purple, the department can and will pause or reverse these re-opening measures. For now, at the orange tier, the measures allow for indoor dining at 25% capacity for up to 100 diners.

Simultaneously, the SFDPH also sent out guidelines and recommendations for HVAC systems and indoor ventilation, which has been a major concern for offering indoor dining in the first place. A recent CDC report cites dining out as a significant COVID-19 risk that applies to both indoor and outdoor dining, due to the inability to wear masks while eating. The necessary improvements for ventilation include having HVAC systems serviced and functioning properly, increasing the flow of outdoor air and natural ventilation by opening windows and considering HEPA filters and fans.

Current CDC guidelines still recommend drive-through, delivery, takeout or curbside pickup as the safest and lowest risk methods for restaurant food. With a predicted spike of cases in conjunction with flu season, guidelines also strongly recommend getting flu vaccines for workers.

The Golden Gate Restaurant Association worked closely with SFDPH on these guidelines. Laurie Thomas, the association's executive director, said that everyone will need to make their own decisions based on their comfort level. "But this is an important step forward in the reopening process," she said in a statement.


Additionally, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that outdoor dining permit fees will be waived until spring of 2022, and refunded retroactively for fees paid after April 15, 2020.

Here's what you need to know:

  • All places that offer indoor dining must serve "bona fide meals" to customers, meaning that all restaurants must serve at least a "main course"
  • Serving alcoholic beverages is not permitted without also offering a meal service
  • All restaurants must have a valid permit to operate
  • All restaurants must complete a Health and Safety Plan and post it publicly and on its website
  • The Health and Safety plan is linked to maintaining food permits, and includes proper signage, face coverage and enforcement of social distancing of six feet or more between people
  • All spaces must be redesigned for proper social distancing
  • There need to be separate spaces for vendor pickups, delivery and take-out
  • Staff must be trained on safety protocols
  • Restaurants must verbally screen all diners upon entry and advise them to wear a face covering when not eating or drinking
  • All buffets are prohibited at this time, including self-cook stations like hot pot
  • Restrooms need to be disinfected every four hours and surfaces should be cleaned at least once every hour

—Urmila Ramakrishnan (@U_Ramakrishnan)