San Francisco, Santa Clara, Napa Counties Move to Less Restrictive Reopening Tier

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A customer takes advantage of outdoor dining in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood on Dec. 4, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Indoor dining, movie theaters, gyms and museums can reopen — with strict limitations — within 24 hours in San Francisco, Mayor London Breed triumphantly proclaimed on Tuesday, as she announced the county's move into the red, less-restrictive, reopening tier.

Officials in Santa Clara and Napa counties on Tuesday also announced their advancement into the state's second-most restrictive operating tier.

“This is the beginning of a new day in San Francisco,” Breed said from Pier 39, an area popular with tourists in picturesque Fisherman's Wharf.

But she warned residents to wear masks and maintain proper social distance even as she encouraged them to explore the city.

“When your waiter walks up to your table, put your mask on. When you go to the restroom put your mask on," she said.


San Francisco, Santa Clara and Napa counties join Marin and San Mateo counties, which last month also advanced into the red reopening tier. In that tier, indoor restaurant dining rooms and movie theaters can reopen at 25% capacity, or up to 100 people, whichever is fewer. Gyms and dance and yoga studios can open at 10% capacity. Museums, zoos and aquariums can open indoor activities at 25% capacity.

“Go outdoors. Keep your mask on whether you’re indoors or outdoors,” said Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County's top health officer, in announcing the loosened restrictions. “Keep your distance from others. And finally, get vaccinated when it’s your turn.”

The change follows a dramatic drop in the rate of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths statewide.

El Dorado, Lassen, Modoc and San Luis Obispo counties also moved up one spot on Tuesday.

“Just remember, six weeks ago, we were announcing over 50,000 cases,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday. “So things are moving in the right direction, things seem to be stabilizing.”

Several counties in the San Francisco Bay Area issued strict-stay-at-home orders nearly a year ago, in advance of a statewide shutdown. Public health officials in the area have, for the most part, been more cautious than their peers in Southern California and in other states about reopening the economy.

After business activity in the region briefly resumed in the fall, it abruptly shut down again in early December after several Bay Area counties preemptively issued stay-at-home orders as the positivity rate surged and the rate of cases climbed. Limited outdoor dining and some indoor and outdoor personal services reopened in late January after the state called off its regional stay-home order.

Wineries can open outdoors with modifications, though bars and distilleries that do not serve food must remain closed. Other retail businesses like clothing stores and florists can go from 25% capacity to 50%.

Rents for apartments and commercial space plummeted as tech workers who could work from anywhere did just that, fleeing for other parts of the state and county that were cheaper and had more elbow room. Downtown eateries that once fed throngs of hungry office workers and tourists at lunch were left in the lurch.

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Tourism is also struggling, with airline ticket purchases to San Francisco in the late October and November period down 80% from the previous year — much worse than the U.S. average — city fiscal analysts said in a January report.

Residents’ own cautious behavior may have further contributed to economic weakness, fiscal analysts said, with data showing that San Francisco residents stayed home more than residents of other California cities and even other Bay Area counties.

The city's landmark cable cars have been out of operation for a year and there's no timeline on when they might return. The mayor said Tuesday on social media that they will return this year.

“Cable cars are a part of the fabric of San Francisco. They draw tourists, they help our economy, and I’m not going to let them just disappear," she said.

The mayor, in her state of the city address to residents this year, vowed that San Francisco will return bigger and better, and dismissed those who say the city has lost its luster.

San Francisco has among the lowest case and death rates in the country: On Tuesday, the city reported just over 34,000 total COVID-19 cases and 422 deaths since the pandemic began.

But even as the city moves into the less-restrictive red tier, and several other counties are likely to soon follow, most of California's 58 counties still remain in the state's most restricted purple tier of a four-tier, color-coded system, including densely populated Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties.

California on Tuesday reported an additional 2,533 confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing the state's total known cases to nearly 3.5 million. Officials also announced an additional 303 deaths, raising that total to just under 52,500 fatalities in the state of nearly 40 million residents.