LOS ANGELES (AP) – San Francisco largely got through the coronavirus pandemic by avoiding it, while Los Angeles was nearly struck by it during a deadly winter flood.
However, both will be simultaneously the first urban areas in California to reach the least restrictive corporate reopening level on Tuesday.
California’s signature cities met infection and vaccination thresholds to allow indoor bars to welcome people again, to cheer for Major League Baseball Dodgers and Giants, and to expand capacity at restaurants, cinemas, amusement parks, gyms, and other facilities.
It’s a notable turnaround for LA, considering it was zero for infections and deaths when California was the epicenter of the virus outbreak in the nation just a few months ago.
“It was awful,” said John Pryor the best on Sunday after one of his few trips to the recently reopened Angeleno Wine Co. near downtown LA. “
California has the lowest infection rate in the country. Los Angeles County, home to a quarter of the state’s nearly 40 million residents and a disproportionately large number of the state’s 60,000 deaths, did not record a single COVID-19 death on Sunday or Monday, likely due to incomplete weekend reporting but still remarkable.
A total of seven of the state’s 58 districts are now on what is known as the yellow plain. This is the final phase of a phased reopening plan prior to a scheduled return to normal business operations on June 15th. The other five counties are all remote areas in northern California.
On a map showing the status of each county, LA and San Francisco are yellow islands in an orange sea, the second lowest restrictive level. There are 39 counties in the orange plain, where 60% of the population live. A dozen counties, mostly in the Central Agricultural Valley, are in the second strictest tier, and none remain in the strictest category.
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San Diego and the state’s other most populous counties, which outperformed LA during much of the pandemic, remain at least two weeks after a broader reopening.
However, the Navy announced Tuesday that it would end some strict COVID-19 rules for tens of thousands of San Diego-based seafarers.
For the first time since last year, sailors are allowed to visit public beaches, dine in reopened restaurants, and visit local bars while easing restrictions on some facilities on the base, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
The move comes as signs of life return to California’s empty streets, shops and restaurants close, and office buildings go dark after a statewide shutdown in March 2020.
The highways are congested, workers are returning to offices, and people gather for drinks and dinner, much of it still outdoors.
On Sunday, drivers circled the block in the vibrant Arts District of downtown LA, where colorful murals cover former industrial buildings, looking for parking. The guests filled the sidewalk tables of the sausage kitchen, ate sausages and drank Belgian and German beer.
Standing in a line of people waiting for a table at Angel City Brewery, which stretched down the street, Chris Sammons said he was committed to supporting businesses.
“It almost feels like a chore to be involved with the city,” said Sammons. “We have to bring LA back to life.”
It was the first outing for his friend Stephen Tyler, who had huddled for so long and had recently been vaccinated.
“It’s just good to be back in town and be with people,” said Tyler. “I don’t care whether I’m standing in line. It’s all new again. “
In San Francisco, business has picked up in Mixt, a popular lunch spot for salad lovers in the financial district. But it’s not pre-pandemic levels when lines spill outdoors, said Leslie Silverglide, the chain’s co-founder and CEO. She plans to open two more stores in the city center in the coming weeks.
“It seems like people are coming back,” she said. “They look forward to having lunch with colleagues again.”
Fear of contracting the virus resulted in a huge drop in the number of local transport drivers. But Jason Alderman said he felt like a kid on his first day of school as he rode a local train to San Francisco when his company reopened its headquarters in late March.
“Instead of feeling like a hollowed-out ghost town that people were quick to leave, it felt like there were green shoots of life,” he said. “I felt a stab of energy that was there earlier.”
When the lockdown came in, an estimated 137,500 employees at companies in San Francisco, including Google, Facebook, and Uber, appeared to have disappeared overnight.
Moving trucks being moved from households to more spacious suburban homes and younger folks just packed up their cars and left as they could work from anywhere. Apartment rents have gone down, but now they’re increasing.
The vacancy rate in San Francisco is 18% compared to 10% last year, said John Chang, senior vice president at Marcus & Millichap, a commercial real estate finance and advisory firm. In Los Angeles the vacancy rate is 17.5% compared to 13.5% in the previous year.
Perhaps more tellingly, only 14% of key cards are used to access offices in San Francisco, compared to 24% in LA. At the other end of the spectrum is Dallas, where data showed that 41% of the cards were used, reflecting the different approaches to the virus across the two states.
Chang said workers suddenly left San Francisco when the original shutdown order went into effect. He expects the return to be gradual.
In the worst case scenario, more than 500 people died daily in California, and hospitals in the LA area were barely able to handle the overwhelming influx of patients.
In total, Los Angeles had 11,633 cases and 233 deaths from COVID-19 per 100,000 people, while San Francisco had 4,095 cases and 61 deaths.
San Francisco briefly hit the Least Restrictive Level for a brief period in October, the only urban area to do so before an alarming surge forced a withdrawal in some cases. LA only emerged from the most restrictive tier in March.
Under the new rules, which go into effect Thursday, many establishments, such as the Angeleno Wine Co.’s tasting room, will be able to double capacity to 50%.
The little wine bar reopened to the public last weekend after having been closed for but two weeks in the past 13 months.
Co-owner Amy Luftig Viste said she got emotional when she reunited old friends for the first time in a year as lively conversations flowed from the tables between the barrels of aging wine and echoed off the brick walls.
“It felt like the winery had come back to life,” said Luftig Viste. “It’s just a great honor to be the place where people come to break the seal when we get out.”
Har reported from San Francisco.