SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- A sharp rise in COVID-19 cases in San Francisco along with spiking cases and hospitalizations statewide and across the U.S. has prompted the city to roll back a number of reopenings, including indoor dining and indoor instruction at high schools not already reopened.
Starting at 11:59 p.m. Friday, the city would temporarily halt all indoor dining, reduce the capacity of fitness centers and movie theaters, and pause the reopening of indoor instruction at high schools that have not already opened, although the Department of Public Health said it would work with high schools that want to reopen in an outdoor setting. Middle and elementary schools will remain open for in-class instruction.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed and the city's Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax announced the changes Tuesday afternoon amid a 250% increase in COVID-19 cases in the city since the beginning of October.
"I know this is not the news our residents and businesses wanted to hear, but as I've said all along, we're making decisions based on the data we're seeing on the ground. Right now, our public health officials are telling us we need to take these steps to get the virus under control and save lives – so that's what we're doing," said Breed in a prepared statement. "The hard decisions we're making now will help us get our youngest residents back to school. We will continue to act in the best interest of public health and we'll continue to help our impacted businesses as much as we are able. I am hopeful that in the coming months we will have support from our federal government to support these businesses and the losses they have suffered as well. I will certainly be advocating that we do."
The new rollbacks are an effort to contain the spread of the virus by focusing on higher-risk indoor activities and behaviors that increase the concentration of aerosols – particularly indoor activities, high-traffic activities, and those that allow for mask removal such as physical activity and eating.
"From the beginning of the City's pandemic response, San Francisco has carefully monitored and responded to the pandemic, which has helped us lead the country in our containment," said Colfax in a press release. "As always, we must listen to the data. The data is now telling us this virus is rapidly traveling throughout our city. If we do not take immediate action, we will have the increase in cases and hospitalizations that we have seen in many other cities across the country and around the world, but have yet to experience in San Francisco."
Colfax said the city is now seeing 80 new cases daily, up from just 32 new cases daily two weeks ago.
"This is consistent, unfortunately, with what we are seeing across California and the Bay Area," he said. "If we do not pause and do not reverse, it is entirely plausible where we could face a situation where our health care system could become overwhelmed and reverse any progress we've made all these months."
Colfax said if the surge continues, cases could rise sharply by the end of the year, with the city possibly seeing over 300 new cases daily by late December. Health officials are also discouraging holiday travel, as it could increase the risk of getting or spreading the virus.
The mayor's office said the following activities will halted until further notice:
• Indoor dining at restaurants or bars serving meals in any context including standalone restaurants, food courts in shopping centers, and dining establishments in hotels, museums or other venues.
The following activities will pause until further notice:
• High schools that are not already open with approved plans. (Switching to outdoor instruction within certain parameters).
The following activities will be required to reduce capacity to a maximum of 50 people indoors:
• Fitness centers may remain open to the lesser of 25% capacity or 50 people (down from 100).
• Movie theaters may remain open to the lesser of 25% capacity or 50 people (down from 100).
All other businesses and activities that are currently allowed may continue operating, including outdoor dining and take-out, elementary and middle schools, offices, retail shopping, personal services, and cultural and family activities such as museums and aquariums.
"I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that everyone act responsibly to reduce the spread of the virus," said Breed." Every San Franciscan needs to do their part so that we can start moving in the right direction again."
Breed said the city would dedicate $4 million for impacted business owners tax and fee waivers, along with grants for operating outdoors and reconfiguring spaces to meet social distancing requirements. The city was also offering low-interest loans to restaurant owners to help pay for costs and operating expenses.
"This rollback will be extremely tough for our restaurants and bars who are already struggling to make ends meet, but we must work together to contain this virus, trust the science before us, and once again flatten this curve. Our economy and the thousands of employees that need and depend on this work rests with each of us to do our part," said Joaquín Torres, Director of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development in a statement. "These dedicated funds will focus on those small businesses, restaurants and bars that will be severely impacted by this rollback and offer some supportive relief as we continue our push towards economic recovery. In the coming weeks, our office, under the leadership of Mayor Breed, will continue to advocate our state and federal partners for the substantial relief necessary to stabilize our small businesses and support their employees."
More information about the city's reopenings and rollbacks can be found at sf.gov/step-by-step/reopening-san-francisco.
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