Coronavirus prompts San Francisco to cancel group events at city facilities

Visitors to Pier 39 in San Francisco
Visitors to Pier 39 in San Francisco watch all-male California sea lions, sun bathing on the docks below. The city is banning group events of more than 50 people at iconic locations as City Hall, the Embarcadero piers, the Palace of Fine Arts and Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, amid the growing spread of coronavirus.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

San Francisco has banned group events of more than 50 people at many city facilities amid the growing spread of coronavirus, part of a larger effort in California to contain the outbreak.

The ban will last for two weeks and includes such iconic locations as City Hall, the Embarcadero piers, the Palace of Fine Arts and Bill Graham Civic Auditorium.

The San Francisco Public Library announced Monday it was canceling all programs, classes and events, including community use of meeting rooms, through March 31. All library locations will remain open during the ban.


The citywide order was “issued on the basis of scientific evidence and best practices as currently known and available to protect vulnerable members of the public from avoidable risk of serious illness or death resulting from exposure to coronavirus,” the city said.

The move was prompted by a perception among officials that the risk of the virus’ spread is increasing.

Officials identified two San Francisco residents who were infected with COVID-19, neither of whom had a history of travel to places with confirmed coronavirus cases nor had a known contact with a person with a confirmed infection. An additional six San Francisco residents who did have known contact with an infected person tested positive for the virus Saturday.

“We must reduce the times and places where people come together,” Dr. Grant Colfax, San Francisco’s director of health, said at a news conference Friday night. “Human viruses need people to carry them. They thrive in normal social circumstances. If we wait longer to take stronger action until we have multiple confirmed cases and deaths, the window of opportunity that we have now will have closed.”

The city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, originally slated for this weekend, was postponed. San Francisco Symphony concerts have been scrapped. Heeding San Francisco’s call to cancel large gatherings, such as concerts, sporting events and conventions, even a volunteer tree planting scheduled for Arbor Week was pulled.

In San Mateo County, home to Facebook’s headquarters, the health officer warned of the potential for the virus to spread into a pandemic. In a worst-case scenario, he warned, a pandemic will cause disruptions to goods and services, cause the cancellation of public events and restrict the ability to travel.


“It has likely been spreading for weeks, perhaps months,” Dr. Scott Morrow said in a statement. “We now all need to take assertive actions to inhibit the spread of this new virus.”

Authorities decided to allow the Los Angeles Marathon to proceed Sunday as scheduled. But health officials urged spectators to keep six feet away from strangers, the maximum distance at which droplets loaded with virus from an infected person’s cough or sneeze can fly before falling to the ground.

Organizers of the BNP Paribas Open on Sunday canceled this year’s tournament at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, citing the public health emergency declared by the Riverside County Public Health Department following a recently confirmed local case of coronavirus.

The fate of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival remains unclear.