The Bay Area, along with the rest of California, will be wide open when the state lifts almost all pandemic restrictions next week. Even San Francisco, which has been among the toughest public health measures in the country, plans to align with the state, city officials said Tuesday night.
Health officials in all nine Bay Area counties have said that, with very few exceptions, they plan to work with the rest of the state to lift mask mandates, capacity rules, and pretty much any other ordinance, enforce social distancing, and prevent the spread of the coronavirus in public institutions.
San Francisco public health officials had hinted that they might maintain some local regulations, but in a meeting with local business leaders Tuesday night they said those exemptions would only apply to certain indoor spaces like homeless shelters and nursing homes or something. Mega events with more than 5,000 people gathered inside or 10,000 outside
“It’s very simple: We follow the state. We’re opening San Francisco, ”said Dr. Susan Philip, San Francisco Health Officer.
“We have an environment that is so much safer than winter and other parts of the country that haven’t picked up the vaccine,” Philip said, sharing graphs showing how far the number of local cases is in the city has fallen in recent months with a sharp increase in vaccination rates.
“Because of this, there is very little risk of full resumption of personal activities if you are vaccinated, and this is true even for people who have not yet been vaccinated,” said Philip. “When the number of cases is so low, everyone benefits.”
Governor Gavin Newsom announced plans for a major reopening of California more than two months ago, but until recently it was unclear whether Bay Area counties would fully participate. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the region has typically seen a more aggressive public health response, beginning with the first on-site placement order being issued last March.
When the rest of the state began to get out of that initial lockdown, much of the Bay Area remained under tighter restrictions, and the same thing happened in the fall after a summer surge in cases. According to the state’s color-coded blueprint, San Francisco tended to dwell on a more restrictive level for a while after the state allowed it to climb.
Business leaders and some public health experts said the patchwork response caused confusion and frustration among residents and led some people to refuse. A group of California business and economic organizations sent a letter to state health officials this week asking them to coordinate with the state on the reopening.
“Minority small business owners and workers have been hit extremely hard by the closings and many are still struggling to get back on their feet,” Edwin Lombard, president and executive director of the California African American Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement. “We need to get families back to work, but businesses can’t just reopen and hire employees unless local governments follow the state’s reopening plan of Sept.
The state confirmed its reopening date in mid-May, announcing at the time that it would lift all capacity limits and other social distancing restrictions. Most Bay Area officials said they would join the state, though some admit they still have some reservations. For example, San Mateo County officials said they would ask local retail stores to maintain mask requirements for customers and employees, but they would not require them to do so.
For the past three weeks, all Bay Area counties have confirmed they will follow the state plan.
“We don’t expect any physical distancing rules to apply after March 15,” said James Williams, county counsel of Santa Clara County at a board meeting on Tuesday. He said the county currently only has one local order requiring companies to record employee vaccination status. According to health authorities, the district is not planning any new orders.
Less than a week from the reopening, there is still some uncertainty about what this will look like.
County health officials said they are awaiting clarification from the California Department of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal / OSHA) about the circumstances under which employees must wear masks in the workplace. Cal / OSHA ruled last week that employees can go maskless if everyone in a room is vaccinated, but must wear face covers if a single unvaccinated person is around.
Businesses and some public health officials have said that enforcing the policy would be a hassle for businesses. Cal / OSHA is expected to meet again this week to discuss the matter again.
San Francisco leaders said they were keen to reopen with the rest of the state and get people back to their pre-pandemic lifestyle – packing bars at the Castro, cheering maskless at a Giants game, and even spices rolled into one Mexican restaurant to share.
“We went a little slower at times and that’s fine because we focused on saving lives,” Mayor London Breed told business leaders on Tuesday. “We are ready to adapt to the state and to reopen on June 15th. Yes, some rules remain. But for the most part, we’re finally moving back to some level of normalcy.
“Even I went to a bar. I don’t usually go to bars, but I just went to a bar and ordered a drink. Just because I could did it, ”she added. “Your mayor is excited about what’s to come.”
Catherine Ho, author of the San Francisco Chronicle, contributed to this report.
Erin Allday is a contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]