San Francisco to Enter State's Least-Restrictive COVID Tier, Allowing All Businesses to Reopen

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Jorge Arreola sanitizes a table at Pier Market after the restaurant reopened for indoor dining on March 4, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Remember that long-lost pleasure of enjoying a drink inside a bar? In San Francisco, starting Thursday, you can do that again (if you're old enough). Then, if you're feeling up to it, enjoy a sweat in a sauna and maybe even a few bounces in the trampoline park.

That's because the city will move into the state's least-restrictive yellow tier governing COVID reopenings, effective 8 a.m. Thursday. City leaders announced the move on Tuesday, which will allow the few remaining business sectors that have remained shuttered to reopen, and allow significantly expanded capacity in others.

San Francisco and Los Angeles County — which on Tuesday also announced plans to advance to the least-restrictive tier — will become the first major urban areas in California to do so, having both met the state's requirements of low COVID-19 case rates, hospitalizations and other health metrics.

"This is an incredible milestone for us to hit as we move forward on our path to recovery, and it is possible because of how well we are doing in our efforts to vaccinate everyone we can in this City and how well the people of San Francisco have done listening to public health officials," Mayor London Breed said in a statement Tuesday. "The Yellow Tier means that no longer are there any businesses that are required to keep their doors shut in this City, and it means we are continuing to allow more activities to be done safely with more people."

With this change, San Francisco will expand most indoor activities to 50% capacity.


Indoor bars that don't serve food can now reopen at 25% capacity, up to 100 people. Previously, the sale of alcoholic beverages without food was only allowed outdoors.

Indoor family entertainment centers, including roller and ice skating rinks, arcades, playgrounds and mini golf can expand to 50% capacity, while saunas, steam rooms and hot tubs can reopen at 25% capacity.

Libraries, which just reopened their doors, can expand to 50% capacity.

Outdoor organized community sporting events may resume with capacity limits of 1,500 to 3,000 people depending on the vaccination/testing status of participants, the city said.

In alignment with recently announced Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, the city will also loosen requirements around mask-wearing in outdoor settings with fewer than 300 people, including outdoor dining.

Officials also said that fully vaccinated people will not count against capacity limits in spaces like offices, live performance events and receptions, and a greater number of people can participate in events like receptions if everyone is vaccinated.

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The city will post the revised health order to its website by the end of the day Wednesday, including final health and safety reopening guidelines, officials said.

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have remained consistently low in San Francisco since early March, and dropped further in late April as vaccine eligibility expanded.

The city is now averaging 26 new cases per day, the lowest rate since June 2020, before the first “summer surge,” health officials reported. And for the first time in over a year, the total number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in San Francisco has dipped below 20.

That progress, officials said, is the direct result of vaccination efforts in San Francisco, where 72% of residents ages 16 and older have now received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, almost twice the vaccination rate six weeks ago. Meanwhile, 86% of city’s residents over 65 have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 73% are fully vaccinated, officials said.

"It has been really incredible. San Francisco is doing a wonderful job around the vaccinations," Breed said at a press event Tuesday. "The more people get vaccinated, the more opportunities we have to start to get back to life as we know it."

Still, she implored residents who have not yet received the vaccine to make an appointment immediately, acknowledging the challenge of reaching those who remain hesitant.

"But I will tell you, this last bit of wrangling of those who were hesitant about getting the vaccine is going to continue to be our most challenging time," Breed said. "And so we are working with community organizations to get more creative about getting people comfortable with getting the vaccine."

She added, "The last thing I want to do is get in front of a podium and tell everyone we have to close the city down. So I'm going to do everything I can to proceed with caution to make sure that that does not happen."

Underscoring that point, Dr. Grant Colfax, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, cautioned that the city's "optimism is tempered" by recent rollbacks in Oregon and Washington amid a decline in vaccination rates and emergence of new variants in those states.

"We must stay vigilant and get vaccination rates even higher to prevent COVID from spreading in San Francisco,” Colfax said in a statement.

A total of seven of the state's 58 counties are now in the state's least restrictive yellow tier. A full list of businesses and activities in San Francisco that can reopen or expand capacity is available here.

The news comes as Marin County, which was widely expected to join San Francisco in moving to the yellow tier this week, announced it would not be able to advance yet, having fallen just shy of the state’s requirements.

KQED's Scott Shafer contributed reporting to this story.