San Francisco, Santa Clara and Marin counties are moving up a notch to the orange tier of the state's COVID risk-assessment system.
In the orange category, the risk of transmission of the coronavirus is considered "moderate," allowing more commerce and other activities to resume. Along with San Mateo, four of nine Bay Area counties have now hit orange, leaving only the yellow category ahead as the most liberal in terms of pandemic restrictions, though the state is mulling the addition of a green tier, in which many regulations will be dropped altogether.
The changes in San Francisco take effect on Wednesday at 8 a.m. Marin and Santa Clara announced new openings would be allowed as of Wednesday without specifying a time.
San Francisco says it will allow nonessential offices to open at 25% capacity. Bars, breweries and some indoor family recreation centers can also resume operations at 25% capacity.
Outdoor arts, theater and music performances and festivals with audiences of up to 50 can take place starting April 1, though the city said it's still working on guidelines so that outdoor spectator sports and large entertainment venues can operate.
Retail stores, personal services, dining, fitness, religious ceremonies, movie theaters, museums and zoos are among the businesses and activities that can operate at increased capacity. Indoor small gatherings of up to 12 people from three households will also be officially allowed.
San Francisco health officials said cases and hospitalizations are continuing to decline, with a current average of 31 new cases a day equal to the total in mid-November, before the winter surge created a health care crisis in the entire Bay Area region as well as the state.
As always, officials included a note of caution, citing the coronavirus variants as a potential source of greater transmission to come. The city continues to impose stricter limitations than the state allows within the tier system. San Francisco will now put a 50% of capacity cap on indoor retail customers, for instance, while Marin and Santa Clara will allow 100%.