Coronavirus, Michael Flynn, Federal Reserve: Your Thursday Briefing

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When the coronavirus lockdowns began almost two months ago, the outdoors seemed like a scary place. It was where you could get infected by a neighbor, jogger, public bench, doorknob or any number of other things. The better move, as a popular hashtag put it, was to #StayHome.

As more virus research has emerged, however, the outdoors has begun to look safer. It still brings risks (like those doorknobs). But they are fairly small. One study of 1,245 coronavirus cases across China found that only two came from outdoors transmission.

Beside the research, something else has also begun to make outdoors seem more attractive. People have started to go stir crazy.

This combination is leading to a surge of new expert advice that might be boiled down to: Get out.

Wear masks when you do. Be careful about getting close to other people or touching surfaces. But experts are arguing that it’s time to think about how to move more activities outdoors — including socializing, eating, shopping, attending school and holding work meetings.

Marty Makary of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health put it this way, when I spoke to him yesterday: “The outdoors is not only good for your mental state. It’s also a safer place than indoors.” Makary has an Opinion article in today’s Times, called “How to Reopen America Safely.”

Many cities are now expanding outdoor activities. Oakland has closed almost 10 percent of roads to traffic, CNN noted. Cincinnati is closing parts of 25 streets “so restaurants can expand outdoor seating,” The Cincinnati Enquirer reported. San Jose may let restaurants open in parking lots and public parks, The Mercury News reported. Several states are reopening beaches, parks and golf courses.

Another example of the new outdoors push: A nursing home in Los Angeles held an unusual Mother’s Day celebration on Sunday, inviting families to wait in line outside and talk with their relatives through an open doorway. “They feel something inside when the family members are there — it’s different,” the director of activities at the home said.

In other virus developments:

For the second day in a row, a judge threw a roadblock in front of Attorney General William Barr’s attempts to dismiss the charges against Michael Flynn, a top former Trump aide. The judge, Emmet Sullivan, appointed a hard-charging former prosecutor and judge to oppose Barr’s effort to drop the case and to explore a perjury charge against Flynn.

In a maternity ward in Kabul, Afghanistan, where gunmen killed 24 people on Tuesday, 18 newborn babies, most of them now motherless, survived the attack. In the hours afterward, relatives gathered outside the ward, and 11 babies were handed to their families.

Jerome Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, warned that the virus could cause permanent economic damage unless Congress passed “additional fiscal support.” The current downturn is “without modern precedent,” said Powell, who was appointed by President Trump.

The remarks were an implicit rebuke of Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader. McConnell has suggested that Congress wait to see whether the economy needs more stimulus before taking further action. House Democrats plan to pass their own stimulus bill — effectively their opening offer — this week.

In-person classes at the University of Georgia. Online courses at Harvard Medical School. And a hodgepodge of other approaches, as colleges struggle to devise plans for the fall. “There is no clear indication of what is the right answer,” one university chancellor said.

Farmers are having to kill hundreds of thousands of pigs that they are unable to sell — a ripple effect of the many meatpacking plants that have shuttered because of coronavirus outbreaks.

There are growing concerns about the mental health of farmers, who sometimes must resort to grisly methods to kill the animals. “There are farmers who cannot finish their sentences when they talk about what they have to do,” a second-generation pig farmer told The Times.

Kevin Roose, the Times’s tech columnist, wrote us a note about the coming information war over a Covid-19 vaccine:

As someone who regularly reports on internet garbage, I’m not shocked by much anymore.

But then “Plandemic” — a documentary filled with anti-vaccine misinformation about the coronavirus — went viral on social media. It wasn’t just conspiracy theorists and virus contrarians posting it in my Facebook feed. Even some of my educated, generally thoughtful friends had been taken in by the film’s suggestion that the coronavirus pandemic was a hoax engineered by a greedy cabal of global elites in order to profit off a vaccine.

It got me thinking about a pretty morbid question: What if we create a successful Covid-19 vaccine, and a huge chunk of the population refuses to take it?

Many anti-vaccine groups are already sowing doubt and paranoia, months or years before a vaccine even exists. The anti-vaxxers have been preparing for this for years with sophisticated persuasion campaigns on Facebook, YouTube and other platforms. And if public health officials and tech companies let this kind of misinformation go unchallenged, the anti-vaccine propaganda efforts could actually win.

Independent bookstores were having such a good run: Customers flocked to them not just for reading ideas, but as neighborhood gathering spots. Now the virus is threatening their very existence, Alexandra Alter reports.

If you want to make sure your local store survives the pandemic, you can help by buying your next book online — directly from a local store. Find the store’s website, or search for it through this database. (You can also find stores on, but stores with their own websites keep more of the money.)

The lack of scientific support for ghosts has not dissuaded people from reporting more sightings while under lockdown, including disembodied voices and misbehaving electronics. “It does seem to have something to do with our heightened state of anxiety, our hyper-vigilance,” one paranormal researcher said.

For the past 20 years, the chef and author Gabrielle Hamilton has begun every Thanksgiving dinner by serving a small glass of cold, salted tomato juice: a Virgin Mary. And once upon a time, the brunch menu at her restaurant, Prune, featured 11 variations of the more famous, alcoholic version of the drink, the Bloody Mary.

Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David

P.S. In the Book Review’s 124-year history, it has had only seven children’s books editors — and it now has its eighth, Jennifer Krauss, who has previously worked at The New York Review of Books and elsewhere. She succeeds Maria Russo.

You can see today’s print front page here.

Today’s episode of “The Daily” is about the case involving the former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Ian Prasad Philbrick and Sanam Yar contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at

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