Shoppers walk past a hand sanitizing station in Westfield Mall on Monday, June 15, 2020. The mall and other indoor shopping centers will need to close again after San Francisco was added to a state watchlist due to rising coronavirus hospitalizations. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SF added to state’s COVID-19 ‘watchlist’ after rise in hospitalizations

City must close indoor malls, non-essential offices

San Francisco was added Friday to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “watchlist” for counties experiencing troubling trends related to the fight against COVID-19 and must adhere to the state’s stricter guidelines, city officials said Friday.

San Francisco was added to the list due to a continued increase in hospitalizations. As a result, The City must once again close down indoor malls and non-essential offices beginning Monday. The City already follows most of the other state restrictions for the more than 30 counties now on the “watchlist.”

Mayor London Breed called on people Friday to follow the health guidelines to slow the spread of the virus, including social distancing and wearing face coverings.

“We have a small window of time right now to get our cases under control before we could see the large outbreak that we are seeing around this country,” Breed said during a virtual press conference.

Breed said the rise in cases is largely due to people hanging out together, which she called “inherently dangerous.”

“We have flattened this curve once and we must do it again,” Breed said. “But what I am afraid of is the complacency. People are tired of the virus but the virus is not tired of us. What we know from our contact tracing team is that the large part of the new virus spread we are seeing is coming from people who are having gatherings with others outside of their household.”

San Francisco enacted its stay-at-home order on March 17. As the virus spread, hospitalizations rose to as high as 94 on April 11. But by mid-June they decreased to a low of 26 people. In fact, San Francisco’s numbers looked so good that The City successfully applied to the state for a variance to more aggressively reopen businesses and allow activities.

But then cases began to soar and The City paused its reopening plans. “We are now back up to 80 people in the hospital,” Breed said.

In addition to slowing down San Francisco’s reopening, the “watch list” designation could impact school reopening plans.

Newsom announced Friday that he would not let schools open for in-person education until the county they are in was off the “watch list” for 14 consecutive days.

San Francisco public schools are already expected to stick with distance learning for at least the first eight weeks of the school year, which begins Aug. 17. There are plans to transition eventually to a hybrid model with some in-person instruction if the health data permits it.

Some private and charter schools, however, had hoped to open in-person or use hybrid models combining in-person and online instruction.

Dr. Grant Colfax said that COVID-19 “is moving very quickly.”

“It took us 38 days, more than a month, to go from 2,000 to 3,000 cases in our city. But now it has taken just 13 days, less than two weeks, to go from 4,000 cases to nearly 5,000,” Colfax said.

To help reduce the spread of the virus, The City plans to issue a new health order Monday to expand the capacity for people to receive COVID-19 tests and results more promptly.

“We need private care providers to step up,” Breed said.

The health order will require private health care providers to provide same-day testing for patients with symptoms and who had close contacts with people diagnosed with COVID-19. The order also requires private hospitals and clinics to provide testing to asymptomatic workers in jobs that place them more at risk for contracting COVID-19, including those in health care and first responders.

“Some San Franciscans are waiting a week or more for an appointment and sometimes as long a that for their results,” Colfax said.

He noted that on average 60 percent of the tests are done by The City’s public test sites.

As of Friday, The City reported that 4,975 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since March and 52 have died.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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