SF Will Allow Salons, Gyms, Museums to Reopen for Indoor Service

For the first time since March, folks in San Francisco can finally get a haircut, lift heavy in a gym or take in the sight of an abstract painting — all inside.

Nail salons, gyms, massage services, tattoo shops and barber shops in the city will be allowed to reopen for indoor operation starting Monday, with "limited capacity."

Gyms will be allowed to open at 10% of their normal capacity, while barbershops and salons will allow customers at a social distance. Masks are required for everyone inside any business.

Museums will be able to open, with restrictions, as early as Sept. 21, after submitting health and safety plans.

That's according to San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who on Thursday jointly announced the next phase of reopenings with the Department of Public Health.

“I’m so glad we can move forward earlier than expected to reopen more businesses that have been closed since March. These businesses have been struggling, and starting Monday, they’ll finally be able to serve customers again, with the necessary safety precautions and modifications in place,” Breed said in a statement.

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Just where in the Bay Area you can get your bangs trimmed during the pandemic, or hop on a treadmill, has been a fluid, ever-changing source of befuddlement. Cities and counties have opened businesses and closed them back up again. The patchwork response in myriad California counties has meant, for months, people across the bay could get haircuts, while San Franciscans were left growing unintentional mullets.

In late August, Gov. Gavin Newsom introduced a new strict reopening plan using a four-tiered, color-coded system to more easily communicate what types of businesses could open in which counties, depending on local risk factors.

Danielle Rabkin, owner of CrossFit Golden Gate, said her gym has been hammered financially by the pandemic closure. She's relieved to be able to finally open her doors again.

"Every day matters after almost six months of closure," Rabkin said. And while her business was allowed to operate outside, that's changed with the recent wildfires. "We absolutely need to move it inside with this air quality."

San Francisco’s own city-run gyms are also allowed to officially reopen, although many of those staff-only facilities at police stations, fire stations, and the Hall of Justice had been open throughout the pandemic without the knowledge of health officials.

After it was made public that those city-staff gyms were still operating, even as private gyms were told to close, San Francisco Health Officer Dr. Tomás Aragón on Wednesday ordered them to close - just a day before Breed's announcement.

"It is critical for each department to play its role not only in protecting its own workforce but in also modeling best practices to the larger community," Aragón wrote.

Hotels, outdoor family entertainment centers, drive-in entertainment — like outdoor movies — and outdoor tour buses and boats will also be allowed to reopen in the city on Sept. 14 under rules Breed previously announced. Hotels have been open only for essential workers and unhoused people since the beginning of the pandemic.

This post has been updated to reflect new information on the rules for salons and barbershops from city officials.

— Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez (@FitztheReporter)

SF Wins State Approval to Reopen Indoor Dining at Restaurants

California health officials have allowed San Francisco to move up a tier in the state’s COVID-19 reopening blueprint.

Under the state's color-coded four-tier blueprint of reopening guidelines, only counties at the “orange” (moderate spread) level may reopen non-essential indoor businesses with some modifications.

So far, San Francisco is the only Bay Area county that has qualified for that tier. Starting Wednesday, San Francisco will move forward with reopening indoor dining at restaurants and bars that serve food, provided restaurants operate at 25% capacity or with 100 people, whichever is fewer.

The city is also moving forward with reopening indoor places of worship with the same 25% capacity restriction on Wednesday — and plans to reopen movie theaters at 25% capacity on Oct. 7.

California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly warned that the state still has the authority to move counties back into a more restrictive tier.

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“When a county isn't able to move forward through the blueprint, they will have to hit pause,” he said at a press briefing Tuesday, adding that a number of counties did not meet the criteria to advance to a new tier this week.

— Shannon Lin (@LinShannonLin)

Movie Theaters in San Francisco Could Reopen on Oct. 7

San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced a goal to reopen indoor movie theaters in the city starting Wednesday, Oct. 7.

Guidelines issued on Tuesday by the San Francisco Department of Public Health state the reopening is contingent on San Francisco remaining in the so-called “orange tier.” If that holds through Oct. 7, cinemas may then reopen at 25 percent capacity or up to 100 people, whichever is less. In addition, the guidelines prohibit the sale of concessions and the consumption of outside food and drinks.

San Francisco is the first Bay Area county to enter the orange (“moderate”) tier in California’s color-coded reopening system for businesses and services.

“We know this continues to be a challenging time with people struggling economically and emotionally. However, thanks to San Francisco’s commitment to following public health guidance, we are seeing improvements in our numbers, which means we can continue to move forward with reopening,” said Mayor Breed in a statement on Tuesday.

The rules around reopening movie theaters vary from county to county. For example, indoor cinemas in Napa County have already been open for business for more than two weeks. They were allowed to do so while in the more severe “red” tier, and customers have been able to purchase limited concessions.

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Even though San Francisco cinemas could soon be reopen, some are not ready to do so just yet.

“Having now been closed to the public for over six months, we’ve been taking stock of the challenges facing our eventual reopening,” said Lex Sloan, executive director of The Roxie Theater, an independent movie house in San Francisco’s Mission District. “While we want nothing more than to return to being a physical space where film lovers gather together in communal appreciation of the seventh art, we are not, despite the recent announcement that San Francisco theaters can reopen today, rushing headlong into doing so for the general public.” —Chloe Veltman (@chloeveltman)

Health Officials Concerned Over COVID-19 Uptick With Heat Wave Ahead

California public health officials say while COVID-19 markers had been trending downward since the state's peak in early July, they’re starting to see an uptick in cases and hospitalizations over the past several days.

Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said at a press conference Friday that there's cause for concern as the state heads into a hot weekend where people may mix and mingle more.

“It really is about not letting our guard down as we did earlier in the summer as we watch some of these numbers trend in the direction that we don't want to see, which is upward,” Ghaly said.

Several factors could be driving the reversal, Ghaly said, including the lagged effects of Labor Day weekend socializing, switching over to the state’s new tiered system which allowed more reopenings to go forward, as well as fires and evacuations, a factor partially due to increased social contact in shared spaces such as emergency shelters.

Ghaly said more mixing is expected as counties meet the requirements to be downgraded a tier.

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“We knew on Monday that up to 16 counties could move from the tier they're in now to a new tier this coming week, which really signifies that the system is working,” Ghaly said.

To be downgraded a tier, a county must show it has control over local transmission by meeting the next tier’s criteria for two consecutive weeks. Alameda, San Mateo and Solano counties moved down from purple (widespread) to red (substantial) on Tuesday, allowing them to resume more indoor business operations.

On Thursday, Ghaly warned a severe flu season could overwhelm hospitals that are preparing for an uptick in COVID-19 cases.

“We've never done COVID hospitalizations with flu hospitalizations,” he reiterated Friday, adding that seeing numbers close to what the state saw over the summer alongside the flu would be

Julie Chang (@BayAreaJulie)

California Officials Warn the Flu, COVID-19 Could Overwhelm Hospitals

A severe flu season this fall and winter could overwhelm California hospitals that are preparing for an uptick in COVID-19 cases as the economy further reopens, officials said Thursday. They urged people to get vaccinated.

Speaking with the heads of the state's hospital and medical associations, California Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mark Ghaly said while the state has seen progress in recent weeks with coronavirus infection rates falling to their lowest level of the pandemic, officials are bracing for a surge as people start going out more just as the flu season begins.

That means it's critical people protect themselves from the flu to help keep hospital bed space available to treat people infected with the coronavirus, Ghaly said.

Officials recommend every Californian six months and older receive a flu shot this year. In past years, less than half of the state's adult population and less than two-thirds of children have gotten the flu vaccine.

The potential exists for hundreds of COVID-19 cases to show up in an emergency room with an equal number of severe flu cases, which could overwhelm a hospital, he said.

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"We are still very vulnerable with so many things coming as we enter winter," Ghaly said.

Hospitals are currently treating 3,500 confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients, according to the California Hospital Association. About 30 percent are in intensive care units.

California has reported more than 790,000 confirmed cases, the most in the country, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

— Associated Press

Faster, Streamlined Access to Unemployment Benefits Is 2 Weeks Away, Newsom Says

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday reassured Californians that a faster, streamlined process to file for unemployment is on the way, acknowledging that the state's Employment Development Department's (EDD) out-of-date technology and infrastructure have contributed to a massive backlog of claims.

The EDD released a report on Saturday announcing it would dedicate the next two weeks to an agency-wide reset to make it easier for eligible Californians to apply for and receive unemployment benefits. The department will “pause” accepting new claims until Oct. 5.

Newsom said that significant delays in the processing of claims are not a problem unique to California, and outdated technology is in no small part responsible for the trouble. “As a nation, we have a huge IT problem,” he said.

The agency plans to launch a system called ID.me to automatically verify the identity of claimants as a way of making it easier for applicants to file new claims and to help the department mitigate fraud and more efficiently work through a backlog of some 1.6 million cases.

Meanwhile, Newsom said California’s COVID-19 numbers continue to drop. The current seven-day average positivity rate has fallen to 2.8%, even as the state continues to expand testing. The number of tests performed dropped significantly during the heat waves, smoke and fires earlier in September, but have since rebounded, he said.

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Newsom expects to see the number of tests increase as the state works towards building out a testing lab and reaching the goal of delivering test results in 24 to 48 hours. California has also seen a 23% average drop in in hospitalizations over the past 14 days and a 25% drop in ICU admissions.

— Nina Sparling (@nina_spar)

San Francisco May Resume Indoor Restaurant Dining by October

San Franciscans may be able to dine indoors at restaurants as soon as October.

That's a part of the city's new reopening plan announced Friday, but there's a catch.

The timeline relies on San Francisco being assigned an "orange" level by the state of California under its four-tier, color-coded system to assess each county's risk, San Francisco officials say, which could happen as early as the end of September.

The state's tiers start at the highest risk level, purple, then go to red, orange and yellow, with each specifying different types of businesses and activities allowed in a county.

San Francisco is now at a red tier, the second-highest risk level. Should the city (which is also a county) be downgraded to an orange tier, city officials said they would then allow restaurants to have indoor dining at 25% capacity, up to 100 people.

If San Francisco's pandemic-related metrics, like positive cases and hospitalizations, do not remain stable, restaurant-goers will be in for a longer wait.

“Restaurants have been hit hard by COVID-19. Many have adapted with takeout and outdoor dining, but they’ve still been barely hanging on and, sadly, some have closed for good,” Mayor London Breed said in a statement. “We are laying out the next steps to make sure restaurants are ready to reopen as safely as possible."

Restaurants across San Francisco have been hammered financially by the pandemic. In Chinatown, for instance, a recent survey showed nearly 60% of restaurant jobs there have been eliminated and less than a quarter of Chinatown restaurants say they can maintain their businesses, KQED previously reported.

Restaurants have turned to app-based delivery services to stay afloat, but have often complained publicly that the fees are too high to be sustainable. Likewise, while some restaurants have expanded their outdoor dining options, many have not.

— Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez (@FitztheReporter)

San Mateo County Rolls Out New 'Mask Mobile' to Deliver COVID-19 Supplies

San Mateo County on Thursday unveiled its new "Mask Mobile" (think Batmobile, but in the form of very colorful minivan) to pass out hand sanitizer, gloves and — you guessed it — masks to communities hardest hit by the coronavirus.

A project of the county’s Office of Community Affairs, the van will frequent certain neighborhoods in various cities throughout the county for the foreseeable future, distributing free hygiene supplies.

"This is an incredibly fun, exciting and educational way to promote the mandate that face masks must be worn in public," said county Supervisor David Canepa, who introduced the initiative. "It might look a bit like Scooby Doo's Mystery Machine but we're calling it the 'Mask Mobile.' "

He added, “It’s free, everything is free. This is one of the best investments that the county can make.”

Throughout the pandemic, the overwhelming number of reported COVID-19 cases in San Mateo County have been centered in Latino communities in the peninsula, with the virus particularly afflicting lower-income essential workers living in crowded conditions, according to county data. The Mask Mobile will primarily serve these communities, expanding on the county's ongoing efforts to deliver supplies to small businesses, service workers and community centers there, Canepa said.

“If we are going to beat this virus, we have to depend on people to be responsible,” he said. “But at the same time, the county is dedicated to providing resources to those people to make sure they have it.”

— Marco Siler-Gonzales (@mijo_marco)