San Francisco will allow bars selling drinks, and not food, to begin serving customers outdoors under health guidelines going into effect next month. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco will allow bars selling drinks, and not food, to begin serving customers outdoors under health guidelines going into effect next month. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SF becomes first Bay Area County to move to least restrictive COVID-19 category

Change to ‘yellow’ will allow more indoor dining and fitness, reopening non-essential offices

San Francisco will allow “non-essential” offices to open with limited capacity next week and plans to allow bars to reopen for outdoor service next month as The City moved into the state’s least restrictive COVID-19 category Tuesday.

In addition to allowing “non-essential” offices to reopen at 25 percent capacity beginning Oct. 27, The City will also allow indoor climbing gyms and fitness centers with climbing walls to reopen at 25 percent of their capacity, Mayor London Breed announced.

Breed told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday that opening up office buildings will help small businesses as well.

“A thriving downtown is critical to the economic engine of this city and essential as we move forward on the road to recovery,” Breed told the board. “Bringing workers back to our offices safely will make a difference for our city and for the small businesses downtown who rely on them.”

Employers must check the health of employees each day they come to the office. After 30-days from reopening, The City may allow office capacity to expand to 50 percent if COVID-19 cases do not increase.

On Nov. 3, The City will permit expanded capacity at already reopened businesses. Restaurants will be able to increase their indoor dining capacity to 50 percent up to 200 people, from the current 25 percent up to 100 people, with a maximum per table dining experience of three hours.

The same goes for indoor church services and movie theaters, although concession and beverage sales at movie theaters would remain prohibited.

The reopening advancement comes as San Francisco became the first Bay Area county to move into the state’s least restrictive COVID-19 category, yellow, from its prior designation of orange. The categories are based on factors like number of new cases per day and the positivity rate. The state’s yellow category is more permissive of activities than those city officials are allowing, but they have emphasized they plan to move at a pace they feel is most safe to prevent an uptick in cases.

“Today really is a sign of hope for our city and for our economic recovery,” Breed said in a statement.

She also told the board that San Francisco is the only urban county in the state to achieve the yellow status so far and the achievement “validates” The City’s approach to tackling the virus.

“We have seen our testing increase to almost 5,000 people a day,” Breed told the board. “Our positivity rate is at 0.88 percent.”

She also said that The City’s attention to high rates of the illness in the Latino community is starting to see results. “We are finally seeing a steady decline in the number of new cases in the Latino community,” Breed said.

She credited residents for taking “seriously” the COVID-19 pandemic and practicing the advised health guidelines, such as wearing face coverings and remaining socially distant, for its progress in lowering the spread of the illness.

Breed cautioned, however, that as cases rise in other parts of the country “we must remain vigilant.”

Also on Nov. 3, The City will start to allow live performances of up to six performers in drive-in formats.

While no specific date was set, The City said they aim to allow bars not serving food to reopen for outdoor service in mid-November.

Joaquín Torres, director of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, said allowing more activities to reopen will bring “the positive cultural and economic impacts necessary for our city to thrive.”

“We look forward to expanding more activity for businesses especially as we prepare and head into the holiday season,” he said in a statement.

Since March, San Francisco has diagnosed 11,937 persons with COVID-19 and 133 have died from the disease. Health officials have administered more than 600,000 tests.

The City is currently diagnosing an average of 31 new COVID-19 cases daily and 25 people are hospitalized due to the illness.

“We will continue to move forward carefully,” Breed told the board. “With this virus, rushing forward does not work.”

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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