On Thursday, May 13, the CDC abruptly announced that fully vaccinated people would no longer need to wear face masks indoors, creating great confusion across the country. Of course, states and counties can’t agree, and yesterday the state of California confirmed it won’t remove masks indoors until it is scheduled to reopen on June 15. The city and county of San Francisco are following suit. Although 76 percent of adults received at least one dose of the vaccine, people who are not vaccinated are still at risk, according to the SF Department of Public Health (SFDPH). This wasn’t news to SF guests: it is still mandatory to wear masks indoors, in restaurants, bars, and other grocery stores.
San Francisco is currently on the least restrictive yellow row that has already had room for mask confusion. A refresher on the rules: Fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear masks to dine al fresco. Unvaccinated individuals are still advised to wear masks outdoors. And everyone still has to wear face masks indoors.
The interim period leading up to June 15 marks a strange cultural moment for the city, when some people are excited to tear off their masks and sip a cocktail outdoors, and others, after the trauma of the past, are still fearful of double masking for that Take-away record year. And now restaurants are dealing with mask confusion, need to clarify guidelines and in some cases develop their own guidelines. Eater SF checked in to a few local restaurants to ask how they were feeling about the entire mask-on-versus-mask-off scene.
“We feel that we as a people are not ready to return to a normal lifestyle,” says Chef Kasem Saengsawang of Farmhouse Kitchen Thai. He says masks “make us feel safer. Our customers appreciate that … the CDC was just too fast. Everyone was in shock. “Farmhouse has seen a few other guests who tried to come in without a mask, including a large group of young people who came into the mission site, refused to put on masks, pulled up the CDC announcement on their phones, and eventually walked out to attend to staff a one-star Yelp rating. And the restaurant has received emails accusing them of failing to understand CDC advice, to which they respond that they are following the county guidelines.
Farmhouse maintains its existing mask guidelines, maintains registrations and reminds guests of them. According to the yellow tier rules, they have also started asking outside guests if they are vaccinated and asking for proof of vaccination. “How do we know people are vaccinated?” Saengsawang says. “It’s another policy that we have to come up with … it’s another thing that the city throws at us.”
Gillian Shaw of Black Jet Baking Co. says she feels lucky to live in the tiny village of Bernal Heights, where most of her regulars are mask-wearers, despite some turmoil in the city. When she saw the CDC update, she immediately jumped online and started spinning through the state and city health pages. For a small bakery that specializes in takeout and doesn’t have a lot of seating, she says, “It hasn’t changed anything for us. It’s far away in my brain I’m just a day-to-day, week-to-week type so that doesn’t change anything for us. “The baristas dealt with a couple of incidents over the weekend, with maskless people asking for sticky buns and saying,” But I’m vaccinated, “which the busy bakery can’t verify.
Black Jet posted a new sign and posted a reminder on social media. “Just because we’ve talked to my co-workers, we feel like the customer has to wear them when we have to wear them,” says Shaw. “That feels right. That feels like the reasonable answer. If I have to wear this mask for safety reasons, the customer should also have to wear this mask for safety reasons. ”
“Like everyone else, I was optimistic …” says Christ Aivaliotis, co-owner of Kon-Tiki and Palmetto in Oakland. “It was a mix of things. I was excited because I thought we might have reached a real turning point. “But Aivaliotis first found out about the CDC announcement when he received a text from an anxious team member. He immediately emailed his health inspector in Alameda County. Aivaliotis says that despite the confusion between the CDC and the state, restaurants have felt the same way: most people are respectful, some people get salty, and in his opinion it’s still the same people who don’t want to wear masks. His main concern was his staff and checking in to make sure they felt safe. The only thing that makes Aivaliotis bars a little more relaxed is the constant surveillance of guests outside to put on masks when the waiters drop cocktails or fries on the table, which restaurants have long called a losing battle.
But after working as a bartender for more than 10 years, Aivaliotis says he’s used to asking people to do something they may not want and dealing with antics. “In my career, that could mean putting your shirt back on. Police have always been part of the job for me? ” he says. “We’re pretty good at dealing with any kind of situation.”