Dr. Grant Colfax, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, advises people not to travel over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. 
Kevin N. Hume/
S.F. Examiner

Dr. Grant Colfax, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, advises people not to travel over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Kevin N. Hume/ S.F. Examiner

Colfax: SF may move into purple COVID-19 tier by Sunday

Move to highest risk category would subject city to curfew, additional restrictions and closures

San Francisco could enter the state’s most restrictive purple tier as early as Sunday due to a surge in COVID-19 cases, forcing city officials to impose a 10 p.m. curfew, Dr. Grant Colfax said Friday.

San Francisco is in the state’s second highest tier, red, and is not immediately impacted by the curfew that was announced earlier this week. But Colfax said, “Our current case rate places us on the trajectory to be in the purple tier potentially as early as Sunday.”

If San Francisco moves into the purple tier, The City would have to impose the curfew two days later, per the state order. The City would also have to roll back reopenings.

“If and when we are assigned to the purple tier, additional reopening rollbacks will be required by the state, including closing indoor gyms, indoor museums and movie theaters and houses of worship,” Colfax said. “We will also have to further limit capacity in retail outlets.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the month-long 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew Thursday for counties in the state’s COVID-19 purple tier, which has the most restrictions on permissible activities and business operations. As of Friday, 41 of 58 counties were in the purple tier. Newsom said at the time that the “virus is spreading at a pace we haven’t seen since the start of this pandemic and the next several days and weeks will be critical to stop the surge.”

Dr. Mark Ghaly, California Health and Human Services secretary, said Thursday that the state is resorting to the curfew “really to avoid further restrictions.”

During the hours of the curfew, non-essential work, movement and gatherings must cease. Restaurants could still provide take-out and delivery. People could still make trips to the grocery store or walk their dogs.

The state is regularly updating the tier status of counties based on seven-day averages of positivity rates and the number of new cases per 100,000 persons.

San Francisco was in the state’s least restrictive yellow tier just three weeks ago and is now expected to enter the most restrictive tier as early as Sunday.

“This is indicative of how fast this virus is spreading in our city,” Colfax said.

To illustrate how COVID-19 is spreading faster than experienced during the summer surge, Colfax said 217 people were diagnosed with the virus during the week of Oct. 12, but that has steadily increased each week, for a high of 768 newly diagnosed cases the week of Nov. 16.

“If we continue on this trajectory, a nearly quadrupling of cases over a month, our health care system could soon be struggling to deal with the burden of the virus and we will have many more people in the hospital and diagnosed with COVID-19,” he said.

Colfax did not pinpoint a specific reason for the latest surge in cases, but said people letting their guard down when cases drop and the reopening of more activities are factors.

As Colfax prepared San Francisco for an expected curfew next week, he also called on residents not to travel or mix with other households during the Thanksgiving holiday. He emphasized that behavior will determine the trajectory of the latest surge.

“This year, do not travel,” Colfax said. “Stay at home with your immediate household.”

He also said testing should not be used to determine if it is safe for someone to travel or visit with people.

“People who test negative can still harbor the virus if they are early in their infection or if they are exposed to the virus after a test,” Colfax said.

For people who still decide to gather despite his recommendation, Colfax advised, “Keep it to no more than six people and keep it outdoors and keep those masks on.”

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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