SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — San Francisco became the first Bay Area county Tuesday to reach the orange level of the state’s COVID-19 reopening scale, allowing officials to greenlight indoor dining and expand the controversial limits placed on religious services.

Mayor London Breed announced the city will allow local restaurants to offer indoor dining with social distancing for the first time since mid-March on Wednesday.

She also said places of worship can reopen at 25% capacity up to 100 people. While the announcement was not as relaxed as what Archbishop Salvatore Joseph Cordileone wanted, it may ease the rising tensions between the church and City Hall.

Last week, the U.S. Justice Department sent a letter to Breed saying that the city’s current COVID-19 policy allowing only one congregant in places of worship at a time “is contrary to the Constitution and the nation’s best tradition of religious freedom.”

The letter came days after San Francisco Catholics staged a large ‘Free The Mass’ march and rally.

Under the health order, singing or chanting will not be allowed indoors since choirs and singing are a known source of COVID-19 spread. The place of worship must also conduct a health check of patrons before they enter the facility. Face coverings will be required at all times except for brief removal to consume food or drink if it is essential to a ritual or ceremony.

“Reopening indoor restaurants and houses of worship with limited capacity, and creating opportunities for families to safely enjoy outdoor entertainment are a good step on our road to recovery,” Breed said. “We are committed to following the data and continuing reopening once our local health indicators demonstrate it is safe to do so.”

Bars, breweries and distilleries will also be allowed to open outdoors without serving food, which is requirement for counties in the higher tiers.

In addition, San Francisco will expand the capacity of outdoor political demonstrations in time for the run-up to the November 3rd election.

San Francisco officials have also set a timeline for opening indoor movie theaters and outdoor playgrounds. Indoor movie theaters are slated to reopen at a limited capacity and with modifications on Wednesday, October 7, and public outdoor playgrounds are planned to open in mid-October.

It’s been a long six months since the city ordered restaurants to shut down to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Many well-known and long-established restaurants have been forced to close down, while others are trying to survive by offering takeout, delivery services and, in recent weeks, limited outdoor dining.

Under the San Francisco plan, restaurants will be allowed to begin indoor dining at 25% capacity – or up to 100 people, whichever is fewer. City officials have been working with the Golden Gate Restaurant Association to develop a self-certification process that will allow restaurant owners to quickly reopen.

Safety requirements for indoor dining will be similar to the existing guidelines for outdoor dining. Face coverings must be worn by personnel and patrons at all times except when the patron is eating or drinking. That includes customers wearing a face covering when ordering, waiting for their order to arrive, or anytime staff is at their table.

“Growing up I spent many weekends bussing and waiting on tables at our family restaurant,” said Assessor Carmen Chu, Co-chair of the Economic Recovery Task Force. “Today, I’m especially excited to see restaurants reopen indoor to create a lifeline during the colder fall and winter months.”

Joaquín Torres, Director of Economic and Workforce Development, also was pleased to see the city’s vibrant restaurant scene coming back to life.

“San Francisco’s world-class restaurants create vibrant spaces for culture and community to thrive and remain absolutely vital to our economic recovery,” Torres said. “They draw visitors from across the Bay and the globe, employ tens of thousands of diverse San Franciscans and generate billions in taxable sales.”

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