Virus cases plunge and Los Angeles, San Francisco come back to life
LOS ANGELES – When Angeleno Wine Co. reopened its tasting room, co-owner Amy Luftig Viste cried as she saw old friends reunited for the first time since the pandemic had closed so many businesses that big cities looked like towns ghosts.
Even with limited capacity, lively conversations flowed from tables set among barrels of aging wine and echoed off the brick walls of the cellar hidden in an industrial section on the outskirts of downtown Los Angeles.
“It was as if the cellar had come alive again,” Luftig Viste said on Sunday, the day after it reopened after being closed every week but two for the past 13 months.
The din in the small space is bound to get louder when capacity is allowed to double to 50% as Los Angeles and San Francisco lead the way for a wider reopening of California businesses.
Iconic cities in the state are likely the only major urban areas in the state to meet virus case thresholds for the least restrictive level, allowing indoor bars to reopen, larger crowds to cheer on the Dodgers and the Giants of Major League Baseball, and increased capacity. in restaurants, cinemas, amusement parks, gymnasiums and other establishments.
It’s a remarkable turnaround considering California was the epicenter of the virus outbreak in the United States just a few months ago.
The two cities have weathered the pandemic differently, but are emerging in the same location after a statewide shutdown in March 2020 that emptied streets, closed shops and restaurants, and darkened office buildings.
San Francisco hit the least restrictive yellow level for a brief period in October, the only urban area to do so, before an alarming increase in the number of cases forced a decline. LA never got out of the most restrictive level until March.
Now California has the lowest case rate in the country. Los Angeles County, home to a quarter of the state’s nearly 40 million people and has suffered a disproportionate number of the state’s 60,000 deaths, recorded no COVID-19 deaths on Sunday or Monday.
As the spring warms, the highways become congested, workers return to offices, and people head to restaurants and breweries.
In the downtown Los Angeles Arts District on Sunday, drivers drove around the block looking for parking spots. Diners filled the sidewalk tables in Wurstküche, eating sausages and drinking Belgian and German beer. A line of people waiting for a table at the Angel City Brewery stretched across the street.
Chris Sammons said he feels a civic obligation to go out and support business.
“It’s almost a duty to be engaged with the city,” Sammons said. “We need to bring Los Angeles back to life.”
It was the first time for his friend, Stephen Tyler, who said he was excited after squatting for so long and getting the shot.
“It’s just good to be in town again, to be around people,” Tyler said. “Even that, I don’t care about standing in line. It’s brand new again.”
In San Francisco, business has picked up at Mixt, a popular lunch spot for salad-lovers in the Financial District. But it’s not at the pre-pandemic level when lines poured out, said Leslie Silverglide, the channel’s co-founder and CEO. She plans to open two more stores downtown in the coming weeks.
“It looks like people are coming back,” she said. “They are delighted to have lunch with colleagues again.”
Fear of catching the virus has caused a huge drop in public transport ridership. Jason Alderman said he felt like a kid on his first day of school when he took a commuter train to San Francisco. He works for the online payment start-up Fast, which reopened its headquarters as soon as San Francisco authorized it at the end of March.
“Instead of feeling like a hollowed out ghost town that people quickly abandoned, it was like there were green shoots of life,” he said. “I felt a twinge of the energy that was there.”
When the lockdown order came in in March 2020, around 137,500 workers for companies in San Francisco that include Google, Facebook and Uber, apparently disappeared overnight.
Moving vans transported households to more spacious suburban homes and the younger ones simply packed their cars and drove off as they could work from anywhere. Residential rents have fallen, but are now rising.
The office vacancy rate in San Francisco is 18% from 10% a year earlier, said John Chang, senior vice president of Marcus & Millichap, a commercial real estate finance and advisory firm. In Los Angeles, vacancies are 17.5% against 13.5% a year earlier.
More telling, perhaps, is that only 14% of key cards are used to enter offices in San Francisco, compared to 24% in Los Angeles. On the other end of the spectrum is Dallas, where data shows 41% of the cards are in use, reflecting the different approaches to the virus in the two states.
Chang said workers suddenly abandoned San Francisco when the initial shutdown order went into effect. He expects the return to be more gradual.
Lisa Elder, a paralegal who has been working in her office since July, said that even with the recent reopening of some restaurants and cafes, the neighborhood is a shadow of itself.
“Before COVID this place was crowded, there were tons of people here in the alley eating and now it’s quiet. It’s crazy, ”she said.
At Angeleno Wine, Luftig Viste said most of their customers had been vaccinated and were all excited to be leaving.
“It’s such an honor to be the place where people come to break the seal as we start to come out again,” she said.
Har reported from San Francisco. Olga R. Rodriguez contributed to this report from San Francisco.