July 13, 2020
Good morning. Virus deaths surged over the weekend. The White House is trying to undercut Fauci. And some innovative people are moving activities outdoors.
On the Rice University campus in Houston on Sunday.Erin Trieb for The New York Times
Rice University, in Houston, is building nine big new classrooms this summer, all of them outdoors.
Five are open-sided circus tents that the university is buying, and another four are semi-permanent structures that workers are building in an open field near dorms, Kevin Kirby, Rice’s vice president for administration, told me. Students and professors will decorate the spaces with murals and video projections.
In the fall, the structures will host classes and student activities, while reducing health risks — since the coronavirus spreads less easily outdoors. Kirby describes the construction project as “a statement to the community.” The statement: “We’re creative. We’re resilient. And what we do matters.”
Across the country, many indoor activities are going to be problematic for the foreseeable future: school, religious services, work meetings, cultural events, restaurant meals, haircuts and more. Mask-wearing reduces the risks, but being outdoors can reduce it even more. (Tara Parker-Pope explains the science and offers tips in this recent Well column.)
As Megan McArdle, a Washington Post columnist, has written: “Move everything outdoors — as much as possible and much more than has been done already.” Yes, the weather will sometimes be a problem. But “we’re long past searching for ideal solutions,” McArdle notes. “We’re now hunting for adequate.”
In today’s newsletter, I want to highlight some of the creative ideas my colleagues and I have noticed, like Rice’s:
- “In Denmark, schools held spring classes on playgrounds, in public parks and even in the stands of the national soccer stadium,” The Times editorial board writes. (The same editorial urges cities to close streets and use them to hold outdoor classes.)
- Several towns have held meetings outdoors, including Southwick, Mass., which spaced out folding chairs in a parking lot.
- At a Baptist church in Westerville, Ohio, the pastor recently climbed into a scissor lift and conducted a drive-in service while he was 25 feet off the ground, Time magazine reports. And San Diego County has lifted some restrictions on outdoor religious services.
- Many cities have loosened restrictions on outdoor dining. In New York, restaurants — like Melba’s, in Harlem — have responded creatively, building new outdoors spaces that “have temporarily transformed the city,” the Times restaurant critic Pete Wells writes.
- Juleanna Glover, a Washington lobbyist, has been holding “outdoor walking meetings” — six feet from another person — along predetermined, lightly populated routes. “I plan to keep these up even when we return to normal,” she told Washingtonian. “I don’t mind if others think it odd.”
- Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, a staple of summer at the Jersey Shore, put on a drive-in concert this weekend while thousands of fans listened from their cars.
Do you know of other companies or communities taking smart steps to move activities outdoors? Tell us about it.