Red tier status and warm weather lures residents from their homes

Warmer weather coinciding with the weekend is creating an intoxicating mix for many Bay Area residents tired of COVID restrictions. Residents in two counties are, for the first time in weeks, enjoying their first Friday with the ability to go out for indoor dining.

At the newly-opened Café 382 in South San Francisco, a sight not seen in weeks: indoor dining, which owner Billy Panos said is definitely welcome.

"At this point, we’ll take anything we can get. And even though we’re at 25% capacity, we are thrilled," said Panos.

Customers such as Leon Valle are thrilled too. He and his party held an impromptu celebration during lunchtime, to highlight the change.

"Just being able to go and eat in-doors, it’s got to be some kind of celebration. You don’t realize how quick all of that can be taken from you," said Valle.

Feb. 24, state health officials elevated San Mateo and Marin counties from the most restrictive Purple Tier to the Red Tier. Indoor activities such as dining and fitness can resume at 20% capacity.

"I do think there is a sense of optimism just being open, as opposed to eating outside," said David Canepa, president of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors. Added Mike Blakeley of the Marin Economic Forum, "We have known for a long time that  a ‘resumption of consumption’ is really going to be the story of how businesses can recover from all of this."

Some economists have said data suggests the loosening of restrictions has had a positive impact on local economies.

"As we have spent the past year locked up, or locked down is the right answer, people are anxious to get out," said University of New Haven economics professor John Rosen. "The theory suggests, businesses are open even at 25%, they’re making money. They can keep people employed."

That’s the plan at Café 382, where owner Billy Panos said his staff has survived, and is ready to pivot again from take-out only, to indoor dining.

"We’re happy to be back on line again," he said.

This is the third time that both San Mateo and Marin counties have gone from purple to red. The difference this time, officials said they believe the advent of Covid-19 vaccinations will prevent backsliding.

Santa Clara County could join those two counties next week, if infection rates continue to decline.