San Francisco restaurants suffered another setback on Tuesday as Mayor London Breed announced a delay to the scheduled return of indoor dining due to a spike in COVID-19 cases in the city.
Restaurants were scheduled to reopen for indoor dining on July 13, along with outdoor bars. But the mayor said those plans were scuttled following an alarming increase in COVID-19 cases, that on its current trajectory, could eventually overwhelm hospitals.
"Our numbers along with numbers all over the country are going up," Breed said during a morning news conference. "We are not out of the woods yet."
San Francisco Public Health Director Grant Colfax said the city has seen a 25% increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations in the last week. Colfax said rates were rising at an alarming rate and indoor dining would only enable the virus to spread further.
The news was a blow to restaurants that had been hiring back staff and preparing to open their dining rooms to customers for the first time since March.
"We were ready to open and rehire all the employee that we terminated," said Francesco Covucci, who owns four restaurants in the city including Il Casaro in North Beach. "Now we get a surprise today and it's disappointing on one side -- we also understand."
Covucci said he was in the midst of rehiring 45 employees for his restaurants -- but instead had his manager contacting employees to break the news that the opening was pushed back even further.
"There is a disappointment between the employee, between the owner," Covucci said.
Many restaurants like Il Casaro have turned to outdoor dining in order to survive. In North Beach, most of Grant street is now taken up with traffic barriers as restaurants and stores have spilled out onto sidewalks and the road. But restaurant owners said outdoor dining is merely a bandaid to get them through until full dining comes back.
Breed didn't announce a new timeline for when restaurants will allowed to reopen inside, saying it was contingent upon the city getting its Covid-19 cases back in check. There were signs the lingering closures were forcing businesses to tighten their belts even further. Longtime waiter Said Ghozali said he got a layoff notice a week ago from the restaurant where he works.
"I was ready to go back and suddenly I got the email," Ghozali said. "It didn't just tell us to not show up -- we're laid off."
Covucci had optimistically forecast his restaurant occupancy would be near normal once he could reopen the dining room -- with outside dining offsetting the loss of indoor capacity due to COVID-19 social distancing regulations.
But if there was a bright spot in the mayor's announcement, it's that the city wasn't rolling back recent allowances for businesses. For Covucci, it just meant he would have to keep treading water into the unforeseeable future.