San Francisco will keep outdoor dining for now despite COVID-19 surge

Customers dine in outdoor eating areas at Fishermen's Wharf in San Francisco on Friday, Aug. 23, 2020.
Customers dine in outdoor eating areas at Fishermen’s Wharf in San Francisco on Friday, Aug. 23, 2020.
(Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)

San Francisco will keep restaurants open for outdoor dining when the city moves into the most restricted coronavirus tier, possibly later this week, a city official said Tuesday.

Joaquín Torres, San Francisco’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development director, said during an online news conference that gyms, movie theaters, places of worship and museums will have 24 hours to close for indoor activity once the city moves into the purple tier, which indicates the virus is widespread.

Nonessential businesses also must reduce capacity to 25%.

Torres said restaurants have been asking the city whether they will have to end outdoor dining, as eateries in Los Angeles County have been forced to do. San Francisco previously has reopened more slowly than allowed by the state.


California recorded 20,654 coronavirus cases Monday, surpassing a record of 13,400. L.A. County recorded over 6,000 new cases, also a record.

At this time, Torres said, the city anticipates continuing to permit outdoor dining as allowed by the state for counties in the purple tier.

Residents will have to abide by the state’s 10 p.m. curfew within 48 hours after the state readjusts the city’s tier ranking because of deteriorating health conditions, he said.
Dr. Grant Colfax, the city’s public health director, said he expects the city to enter the most restrictive zone “sometime soon, perhaps later this week.”

Last week, he predicted San Francisco could move from the red to the purple tier as early as Sunday. “We are surrounded by purple so the fact that we are in red should give no one reason for not taking precautions during the holiday,” he said.

The percentage of residents testing positive for the virus has risen by 265% in the past four weeks, he said, moving from 0.81% to 2.15% and “going up.”Hospitalization rates for COVID-19 in the city have doubled since the end of the month, he said.

“This is a once-in-a-century pandemic,” he said. “This not the time to throw caution to the wind.”

Los Angeles County has been much harder hit by the pandemic than San Francisco. Still, the decision to suspend outdoor dining has sparked criticism from restaurant owners and some elected officials.

A judge rejected a plea by a restaurant group to block the ban on outdoor dining amid surging coronavirus cases.

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge declined Tuesday morning to block a ban on outdoor dining from going into effect in Los Angeles County, rejecting an 11th-hour plea by the state’s leading restaurant group.

Under the new rules, which are scheduled to go into effect Wednesday night, all restaurants, breweries, wineries and bars in the county will be barred from serving customers in outdoor settings for at least three weeks. Indoor service has been prohibited since the spring. In announcing the restrictions, health officials said they were necessary to cut down on places where large groups can gather and spread the virus.