Visting San Francisco During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Posted by Craig Wesley on

I am not a health professional so please read the World Health Organization and Center for Disease Control for the latest information, advice, and situation report before reading this blog post.

Update March 11, 2020: It's only been one day since I posted this blog post and the situation is escalating quickly in the USA. While my advice below still stands, avoid San Francisco (really any big city) if you can.

I'll start by saying that I'm actually taking the coronavirus situation probably more seriously that most people because I have a 69 year old mom who was hospitalized in 2019 for asthma, something that she's battled for 40+ years. With her age and underlying health condition, she's in one of the higher risk profiles. Luckily, Anne & I work from our home in Alameda and have been Amazon Prime Members since its inception and basically limit our time spent outside of house to a minimum. We all live in the same house, so it basically means if Anne and I get the coronavirus, then my mom is almost certainly to get it.

While I am not a health professional, and I'm not here to argue whether or not you should or shouldn't come to San Francisco, but I did want to give my advice to those visiting San Francisco on how to minimize your risk of being exposed and hopefully exposing others if you have the coronavirus and don't know it.

1. Don't visit crowded areas

A recent article from the South China Morning Post detailed a case study of how coronavirus spread during one particular bus ride in China, which had closed circuit security cameras. The study showed that the virus can infect someone up to 4.5 meter, almost 15 feet, linger in the air for more than 30 minutes, and survive for days on certain surfaces.

Generally, this means that any visit to San Francisco means you should avoid the most crowded tourist spots, such as Fisherman's Wharf, Coit Tower, the wonderful museums, most shopping areas, sporting events, and basically any place where you can't practice social distancing. While the official recommendation is about 6 ft., the study linked above says it should be more than 15 ft.

But, as you can guess, if you stay outdoors with plenty of space between you and other people, then the risk should be greatly reduced, except for crowded events, which should be avoided. Fortunately, there are so many things to see without being around the crowd.

Obviously, the Golden Gate Bridge is perfect. If you're being extra caution, then I would suggest not to walk the span because it can be crowded, also to avoid the popular spots to view the bridge. Instead, consider getting a view of the Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach. I've been to Baker Beach on several occasions and there's always plenty of distance between people. More crowded, but still less so than the popular viewing points is around Torpedo Wharf near Crissy Field.

Other great spots without the crowd:

  • Ocean Beach
  • Presidio. Immigrant Point Overlook and Inspiration Point are great spots for views and photos. Generally, I would advice Twin Peaks, but it can actually get crowded, especially on weekends. On a weekday, it might be ok, but if there's fog, then you're not going to see much of anything.
  • Golden Gate Park. Places you should probably avoid going into are the Japanese Tea Garden, the de Young Museum, California Academy of Science, and Conservatory of Flowers. I know, those are generally the main attractions, but that's why they would put you into close proximity with people.
  • The Painted Ladies. I'm not a fan, but there's usually plenty of space between people.
  • Mission Dolores Park
  • Treasure Island. Treasure Island has the best view of San Francisco Skyline.
  • Marin Headlands
  • Driving Lombard Street. I'm really not a fan, but if you insist on seeing it, then drive it rather than going at the bottom of the street where the crowds gather.
  • Driving along Highway 1 for great coastal views. There are rarely any large crowds along the coast and it's absolutely beautiful.
  • Muir Woods. Muir Woods is actually relatively crowded for a park, but it's still a park and has plenty of space.
  • Angel Island. It does require a ferry ride, but probably less risky alternative to Alcatraz and taking their guided tour in relatively enclosed areas.

2. Rent a car

This is literally the only time I've ever advised this, but in this scenario, you're best off renting a car, making sure to clean the handles and interior yourself. I always tell people to take public transportation, but in the time of COVID-19 it's a riskier proposition.

Even if you're not in the same bus, muni, or BART as someone who has the coronavirus, then you're still at risk if you're touching the poles, handrails, etc. Especially if it's true that the virus can linger in the air for 30 minutes and survive on surface for days. In 2018, approximately 631K people per day used SF public transportation, according to the city website.

Meanwhile, if you're renting a car, then you only have to worry about the people who used it before you, as well as the people working with the car before being handed off to you. Remember though, if you're being super paranoid, then 30 minutes still applies to your rental car if the person dealing with the car before you has the coronavirus. So, take your time getting your car and air it out.

3. Stay at an Airbnb or VRBO versus a crowded hotel

In the same line of thought as the rental car, a hotel sees a lot of travelers from all over the world and staff that service travelers from all over the world. An Airbnb or VRBO, you generally just have to worry about the guest before you and the host. In most cases, you only have to worry about  atwo or four story unit, instead of a massive hotel with hundred of guests and staff. And, of course, in a hotel, you'll generally have to be in an elevator serving hundreds of people a day.

In either case, I would probably want to clean and disinfect the space myself, at least the most common touch points.

Another benefit is that you can cook your own food, rather than always having to be in restaurants. South Park Cafe in San Francisco just closed because an employee tested positive.

4. Considering wearing a N95 mask when you can't avoid crowds

According to the WHO and CDC, they do not suggest people without symptoms to wear a face mask because they are in short supply and should be saved for caregivers.

That being said, it also basically means that if you want to prevent contracting the coronavirus, then you should probably wear a mask when in crowded and/or enclosed areas. In South Korea, the government wants everyone to wear masks to help stop the spread, has banned exporting masks, and is trying to increase manufacturing.

South Korea is also the most progressive in terms of how many people are tested, with 196,000 tested as of March 9, 2020 versus 4,384 in the USA. The US Population is almost 100 times bigger than South Korea and the USA isn't even remotely close to testing the same percentage of the population. While the number of cases in both cases should be under counted, it's even more so in the USA. As of March 10, 2020 there are only 14 confirmed cases in San Francisco, but it's safe to say that is a significantly major under count. You can't count the number of cases if you don't test for it.

There are some officials saying that wearing a mask can be more dangerous and that's because they know most people will not learn how to put on and take-off a N95 mask properly. Thankfully, the internet exists and it's certainly not rocket science. If you get a 3M mask, then the company posts instructional videos for specific models, but the concepts are the same for all masks.

5. Check the Health Score of Restaurants

Most restaurants have taken a big hit, so in a weird way you don't actually to worry about crowded restaurants and of course it's best to avoid them for those restaurants lucky enough to still have a crowd. Still, if you can't prepare your own meals, then in these times you'll want to check the health score before sitting down and eating a meal at any restaurant.

While the list is a little dated, the San Francisco Chronicle made a list of restaurants with perfect 100 health scores. But every restaurant must post their score and you shouldn't eat at any place that doesn't display it. While a 100 health score doesn't mean you're safe from the cornavirus if you eat there, it's hard to argue against going to a restaurant that follows health codes strictly versus one that doesn't.

6. Seriously, Learn How to Wash Your Hands and Do It Often

As I mentioned at the top of the blog, you should visit the WHO and CDC website before going through my list, but I'm still going to mention hand washing. Watch the World Health Organization video on washing your hands. Right now, this is the best protection you have.

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