SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — San Francisco Mayor London Breed on Tuesday announced a new $62 million plan to provide small businesses with some help amid the COVID-19 pandemic while providing an update on the city’s response to the latest surge in cases.
Before discussing the new plan, Mayor Breed briefly touched on the latest COVID-19 case numbers in the city, saying that San Francisco has had a confirmed a total of about 27,000 cases since the beginning of the pandemic.
Currently 249 patients are hospitalized with the coronavirus and 235 people have died from COVID-19 in the city. While she noted that the spike in cases had reduced somewhat, Breed emphasized that the struggle to flatten the curve in San Francisco and the Bay Area continues.
“While our cases are still higher than ever, the rate of increase isn’t as severe as we saw after Thanksgiving. This is some good news and it means hopefully people are following the health order,” said Breed. “However, we started this holiday at a more precarious point. So even a slower rate of increase is seriously concerning. Our cases and hospitalizations remain dangerously high and our infection rate is still above 1. The Bay Area as a whole, like pretty much the entire state, remains in a very difficult position.”
Breed went on to provide some details on the newly announced plan to help small businesses.
“There is so much more that we need to do. That’s why I asked my budget staff to go to departments and find any way to cut costs or reprioritize funding to support our small businesses,” Breed explained. “And the good news is we found some.”
According to a press release issued by her office Tuesday morning, the proposed combination of grants and very low to zero-interest loans will triple the total direct financial support for small business being offered by the city during the pandemic.
The new plan will complement and expand on already existing local, state, and federal initiatives designed to help small-business owners suffering through the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus. The focus will be to provide aid to those businesses most impacted by COVID, the mayor said.
“These are businesses who have not been able to open their doors or have been severely limited in the services they can provide. We’re talking about our restaurants, our nail salons, our bars, our nightlife venues, our gyms,” said Breed.
According to Breed’s office, the city has already provided more than $24 million in grants and loans as well as recently waiving an additional $5 million in fees for small businesses. The new plan comes as the federal government has directed new funding in the expansion of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and California launched its own Small Business COVID-19 Relief Grant Program.
With the new plan, Breed said that a proposed grant program would provide $12.4 million in available funds for grants ranging from $5,000 to $20,000. The grants will targets specific small businesses including those operated by women and people of color, those that are long-established in the community and unable to access federal funding.
An additional $50 million will be made available for loans of up to $250,000 with low or zero interest that will support what Breed called “anchor businesses” that generate higher revenue and employ more people such as restaurants in addition to smaller businesses.
Additional details on the proposed small business relief plan were available on the mayor’s website.
Breed also spoke briefly about the importance of the city’s rollout of the COVID vaccine, noting that health officials have learned from the early challenges of setting up testing sites and would aim to make vaccinations available to the areas of the city hardest hit by the coronavirus.
“This is an ‘all hands on deck’ moment and we all have a role to play. Dr. Colfax will go into a little more detail on this, but know that the city is working to identify sites to set up for vaccinations, but it can’t just be about one large, massive site,” said Breed. “One thing we’ve learned from our testing system was that we need to work with our community partners and meet our most impacted communities where they are.”
Before handing the COVID update off to San Francisco Director of Health Dr. Grant Colfax, Breed appealed to the city’s residents to not waver from the practices they’re now accustomed to while they wait for their turn to receive the vaccine.
“To the people of San Francisco, I know it’s been hard, but I thank all of you for everything that you continue to do,” said Breed. “There is — and I know that you hear this very often — there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but there really is. It’s just a lot of sacrifice that we’re going to have to make in order to get there, between now and getting out of that tunnel.”
Colfax opened by saluting frontline healthcare workers who have helped shepherd the city through the latest case surge from the holidays.
“Healthcare workers are shouldering a tremendous burden for our city and our communities right now. As our post-New Year’s cases surge, on top of our post-December holiday cases, on top of our post-Thanksgiving cases, these healthcare professionals are showing up, every day, ready to meet the mounting challenge,” said Colfax. “They are incredibly dedicated and we often say that they are quote, ‘tireless,’ but I know that they do get tired…My gratitude to them is deeper than I can express.”
Colfax noted that the surge has pushed hospitalizations to new levels that the city’s healthcare system has not seen before.
“We have, as of yesterday, 249 COVID-19 patients in San Francisco hospitals. For comparison, during the last surge in July, we topped out at 114 patients, fewer than half of what we’re seeing today. And of course, this local surge is happening amid a regional, and state, and national hospital surge.”
With ICU capacity continuing to dwindle as case numbers rise, Colfax also appealed to San Franciscans to keep taking precautions.
“Our own history tells that, so far, San Francisco can successfully manage surges such as this, but we must continue to work to flatten this curve. We need to turn this around, the current trajectory is not sustainable,” said Colfax.
Colfax couldn’t give a timeline as to when San Francisco will be able to set up mass vaccination sites but said officials are already in the planning stage of setting up those sites.
“When we have sufficient supply of vaccine to meet the need for a mass vaccination site, we expect to have that site up and running,” said Colfax. “Our goal is to open such sites as fast as possible when the state supplies us with more vaccine.”
In terms of San Francisco getting to where it would be safe to relax some of the COVID-19 restrictions currently in place, Colfax reminded residents that reopening would take time.
“Our numbers are still going up, and it usually takes a couple weeks for those numbers to start going down once they level off. Right now, we are under the state’s shelter-in-place order, and I expect we will continue to be in that until at least the end of this month,” explained Colfax. “And really, we’re going to have to watch the numbers to see if cases and hospitalization rates start to come down. And then we’ll have a much better sense on when we will be able to gradually reopen.”
He also said that residents should anticipate that wearing masks and social distancing would remain a part of everyday life.
“Until we get everybody access to the vaccine, which is many months, many months away, we’re all going to have to continue to practice those other prevention measures,” said Colfax.