San Francisco leaders cheer reopening as COVID-19 cases fall
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — San Francisco will begin reopening more parts of its economy starting Wednesday, including indoor dining, movie theaters and gyms, an upbeat Mayor London Breed announced as California gave seven counties the go-ahead thanks to declining rates of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
“This is the beginning of a great time in San Francisco, you save money not buying those plane tickets to go other places. You can enjoy your city, right here right now,” Breed said under blue skies from Pier 39, an area popular with tourists in picturesque Fisherman’s Wharf.
The announcement came nearly a year after the San Francisco Bay Area imposed the nation’s first lockdown, shuttering thousands of businesses and forcing residents indoors.
San Francisco, with a population of 900,000 before the pandemic, has among the lowest case and death rates in the country, with more than 34,000 cases since the start of the pandemic and 422 deaths.
City fiscal analysts remarked on how residents have stayed at home more so than people in other California cities and even other equally strict Bay Area counties, contributing to good public health but also a sour economy.
Most of the state is still limited to outdoor dining and museums, including heavily populated Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties in the south.
San Francisco, Santa Clara and Napa counties in the Bay Area join four other counties in moving out from under the state’s most restrictive rules, which among other things allows indoor dining rooms and movie theaters to reopen at 25% capacity or up to 100 people and gyms and yoga studios to open at 10% capacity. Museums, zoos and aquariums can open indoors at 25% capacity.
While some sectors were allowed to reopen after case rates dropped in the summer, business activity in San Francisco shut down again in early December as the positivity rate surged statewide.
Outdoor dining, outdoor museums and some indoor and outdoor personal services reopened in late January after the state called off its regional stay-home order, but the economic toll has been grim.
Rents for apartments and commercial space have plummeted as tech workers who could work from anywhere fled for other parts of the state and county that were cheaper and had more elbow room. Downtown eateries that once fed throngs of hungry office workers and tourists at lunch struggled.
Tourism is also struggling, with airline ticket purchases to San Francisco in the late October and November period down 80% from the previous year — much worse than the U.S. average — city fiscal analysts said in a January report.
Breed on Tuesday urged residents to continue wearing masks and maintaining proper social distance even as she encouraged them to explore the city and pump money into the local economy.
“When your waiter walks up to your table, put your mask on. When you go to the restroom, put your mask on,” she said.
Alcatraz Island, another top tourist draw for the city, anticipates reopening in mid-March, said Julian Espinoza, spokesman for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which includes Alcatraz.
Breed also announced on social media that another iconic San Francisco landmark will return sometime this year: the clanging of cable cars.
“Cable cars are a part of the fabric of San Francisco. They draw tourists, they help our economy, and I’m not going to let them just disappear,” she said.
The counties of El Dorado, Lassen, Modoc and San Luis Obispo were also approved Tuesday to reopen more.
As more things start to reopen, Gov. Gavin Newsom is pressing his case to restart in-classroom learning, urging the state’s public schools to tap into $2 billion in funding that is part of a school reopening deal he announced with lawmakers.
It offers extra funding for districts that begin reopening classrooms by April 1, starting with the youngest grades and special-needs students.
The majority of California’s K-12 public school classrooms have been closed for a year including in San Francisco, which had to sue its own school district to jump-start conversations on getting children back into schools.
Although his plan would not order districts to reopen schools, Newsom has urged schools to work harder to bring kids back into the classroom, as vaccinations increase and positivity rates stay low. He said Tuesday that the state’s 7-day positivity rate has dropped to just 2.3% — a record low, according to the public health department. Nearly 52,500 people have died in the state of nearly 40 million.
“Give it a try,” Newsom said Tuesday after touring a school. “The data, the science bears out, we can do this.”
The state’s two largest teachers unions have mostly praised the agreement, but teachers in Los Angeles called the plan an attempt to force schools to reopen, putting still-unvaccinated teachers at risk.
United Teachers Los Angeles, the union that represents California’s largest school district, said it is “a recipe for propagating structural racism.”
“If you condition funding on the reopening of schools, that money will only go to white and wealthier and healthier school communities,” union leader Cecily Myart-Cruz said in a statement.
AP reporters Olga R. Rodriguez and Jocelyn Gecker in San Francisco and Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento, Calif. also contributed to this story.