States with escalating infections must take urgent, large-scale action. Closing bars, as some state and local officials have already mandated, is a critical first step, since crowded indoor bars have clearly been identified as the source of numerous outbreaks. But just closing bars will drive people to congregate in other locations. Officials need to restrict all indoor gatherings, including at restaurants, theaters and private parties.
But this time they should impose a different type of population-wide order — not a lockdown, but rather a mandate not to get together indoors. In high-virus areas, even relatives who don’t live together should avoid visiting inside each other’s homes, and choose instead to see one another in a backyard or a park. I don’t think people will comply with another shelter-in-place order, but they might be willing to modify how they socialize.
Similarly, I’m concerned that re-closing such lower-risk outdoor recreational sites as parks and beaches would backfire and simply drive people indoors. Instead of prohibitions, policymakers should consider creative approaches to make shared spaces safer. For example, an alternative to closing beaches altogether is to allow beaches for walking and swimming only.