In Smoky San Francisco, Covid-Hit Businesses Suffer Double Blow

In Smoky San Francisco, Covid-Hit Businesses Suffer Double Blow

September 11, 2020

San Francisco has been telling restaurants and other businesses to operate outside to fight the spread of Covid-19. Now, the outside is smothered in smoke.

The Bay Area’s more than 7 million residents are suffering from harrowing conditions spurred by record-setting wildfires, with a sky that wasglowing orange Wednesday giving way to an unhealthy haze. That’s forcing residents to take shelter, hurting businesses that are largely forced to operate outdoors because of coronavirus-related restrictions.

“It really couldn’t have come at a harder time for our industry,” said Laurie Thomas, acting executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association and owner of two restaurants in San Francisco, one of which she decided to temporarily shutter Thursday.

“I know several people that closed the day the sky was orange when it looked like a meteor had hit,” she said. “And then yesterday I decided to close because even though it didn’t look like the end of the world, the quality of the air was so bad.”

It’s been a hard year for restaurants and bars across the country, but especially in San Francisco, which has had some of the earliest and tightest restrictions on the industry to prevent the pandemic’s spread. Nearly 450 restaurants permanently closed from March 1 to Aug. 15 in the San Francisco and Oakland areas, according to Yelp data.

As conditions around the virus have improved in the area over the past couple of months, more people have started venturing out to restaurants and other businesses. That’s now been upended.

“Normally this would be some of the best months of the year — we would have the conventions in town, amazing weather, the kids would be back in school so all the moms would come in,” Thomas said about her restaurant, Rose’s Cafe. “A Friday last year we would have done about $8,000, and today we will either do a couple hundred or zero if we close in the next hour.”

San Francisco officials on Friday urged residents to stay indoors as much as possible and limit any excursions outside. But they offered no guidance to restaurant owners.

“At this point there is no plan to shut down outdoor dining, but we are urging our San Francisco residents to stay indoors during this poor air quality — it’s the healthiest thing they can do,” said Naveena Bobba, deputy director of health at the city’s public health department. “This is a personal choice, but the recommendation is to stay indoors to protect your health and your lungs.”

Testing Hit

The poor air quality across the West Coast has also hampered efforts to test for the coronavirus. Los Angeles County, the epicenter of California’s outbreak, closed seven testing centers Friday as wildfire smoke covered the area.

San Francisco has scaled back its virus testing due to the hazardous air, closing several but not all testing centers, said Mary Ellen Carroll, executive director of the Department of Emergency Management.

“I know that San Franciscans are resilient,” she said at the news conference. “I also know that San Franciscans are probably tired of being resilient. But we have to continue to take care of each other through this global pandemic and whatever else we may face.”

Some businesses owners are weary after months of upheaval. Mica Talmor is the owner and chef of Pomella, a Middle Eastern restaurant in Oakland. In recent weeks, customers had come to its patio — and seeing people filled Talmor with joy.

“It was exciting just to see people eating food and enjoying themselves in our space,” Talmor said Friday. “It was morally uplifting.”

Now she’s surviving on takeout and delivery orders.

“The orange sky, the smoke and the ashes falling — it’s very depressing,” she said. “But if you need to stay at home, order delivery and pay for it. The world is coming to an end. Eat cheesecake. It is rough out there: People need to eat comfort food.”

— With assistance by Dana Hull, and Edward Ludlow

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