San Francisco’s stay-at-home order, which was tentatively expected to lift as of January 7 2021, has been extended “indefinitely,” Mayor London Breed and Director of Health Dr. Grant Colfax announced Thursday. In addition, officials say, the city might keep its stay-at-home in place even after the state lifts it, depending on “key health indicators.” That means that activities including outdoor dining will remain forbidden in San Francisco for an unforeseen length of time.
The announcement was a surprise to those who attended Colfax’s final address of the year, which was delivered on December 29. While he warned that New Year’s Eve gatherings could be “catastrophic” for the area’s COVID-19 case rate, he also said that the increase in positive coronavirus tests was leveling off. He did not, we should note, make any indication that the city expected its current lockdown — which the region entered voluntarily on December 6, and was made official by the state on December 16 — would continue past next week.
In a press release sent by San Francisco’s Department of Emergency Management on December 31, the officials wrote that “due to ongoing regional ICU capacity limitations and continuing increase of cases, San Francisco does not expect the Bay Area will meet the State’s thresholds for lifting the order” by January 7. That’s probably a reasonable expectation: The state requires the full Bay Area region, which includes Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Santa Clara, Monterey, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Solano, and San Francisco counties, as well as the city of Berkeley, to demonstrate that 15 percent of its intensive care unit hospital beds are free. At present, while San Francsico has around 32 percent availability, the region at a whole is at 7.5 percent.
The stay-at-home extension announcement was a disappointment to Laurie Thomas, the executive director of local dining lobby the Golden Gate Restaurant Association. “This is not the news we had hoped to hear,” she said Thursday morning, even then acknowledging that “given the 7.5 percent regional ICU capacity number posted yesterday,” she knew then that the Bay Area was “unlikely to be released from that order on January 8th.”
That said, Thomas says that she’s glad the announcement was made now, as opposed to next week, when many assumed the order would be lifted. “We appreciate the city’s effort to provide businesses with more advance notice for planning purposes,” Thomas says, and “we appreciate the recently passed federal COVID relief bill,” but “we continue to stress that we need more financial relief from the city of San Francisco, the state of California and the federal government.”
In addition, officials say, a public health order implemented on December 17 that requires “anyone traveling, moving, or returning to San Francisco from anywhere outside the Bay Area” to quarantine for 10 days has been extended past the initial end date of January 4. It’s a decision that “responds to the significant prevalence of the coronavirus throughout the State and Country,” officials say, and is intended to protect “against the spread of a new variant of the virus detected recently in the United Kingdom, Colorado, and California.”
Even after the region’s ICU bed numbers allow the stay-at-home order to be lifted, the city might still be shut down, Breed and Colfax say. “Once the State lifts its Regional Stay at Home order,” only then will SF “reassess the key health indicators to determine if they support relaxing the current restrictions on businesses and activities, and resuming the measured re-opening process,” they say. In other words, even after the state says that activities like outdoor dining can resume, San Francisco might continue to restrict restaurants to takeout and delivery.
One reason San Francisco might keep the stay-at-home in place is that, so far, it seems to be working. “Though cases continue to climb, they are increasing at a slower rate than when the orders were implemented,” the city said via statement. “As a result of our collective actions, more than 400 deaths may have prevented.”
“We have been proactive in putting the stay at home order and travel quarantine in place to protect San Franciscans and in the hopes that by acting quickly, we could flatten the curve and re-open faster,” Breed says. “This seems to be working but we need more time to determine that we are moving in the right direction and that the December holidays don’t set us back. There are glimmers of hope and now is not the time to let up.”