CORONAVIRUS

You can't stop Iowans from boozing, so let them do it outside

Bars are set to open with governor's permission, but you're probably safer drinking outdoors

Party goers play beer pong on the front porch of a home at 702 Iowa Ave. Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010 near downtown Iowa City
Party goers play beer pong on the front porch of a home at 702 Iowa Ave. Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010 near downtown Iowa City. (Brian Ray)

Patio boozing is one of the greatest simple pleasures of Midwestern life in the spring and summer. Modest changes to state and local regulations could afford Iowans a few more opportunities to partake this year.

During the coronavirus outbreak, government officials have temporarily relaxed regulations on alcohol as a way to stimulate small businesses and give the unhuddled masses easier access to liquid relief during the time of bar closures and social distancing guidelines.

Gov. Kim Reynolds issued an order in March allowing certain liquor license holders to sell carryout alcohol, though that measure is set to expire this week. In my hometown of Iowa City, Mayor Bruce Teague recently signed a proclamation waiving seasonal fees for businesses operating sidewalk cafes on city property.

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Some jurisdictions outside Iowa have gone further by lifting their prohibitions against open alcohol containers. Iowa has not done so, but anecdotal reports suggest some law enforcers are practicing discretionary enforcement.

Even with Iowa bars about to reopen with the governor’s permission, many Iowans will choose not to visit enclosed spaces for the foreseeable future. As Iowa prepares for a coronavirus summer, government leaders should legalize and promote outdoor drinking as a potentially safer alternative to other common warm-weather activities.

Aside from the raw pleasure derived from drinking cold beer in the hot sun, an added bonus to your sunny sloshing is that staying outside may help slow the spread of the virus. To be clear, consuming alcohol is bad for your health. But if you’re going to do it, you might as well take precautions.

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It’s important not to overstate the evidence we have, but it appears the coronavirus is much less transmissible outdoors than indoors. It’s often easier to maintain social distance outdoors. Breeze, sunshine and other environmental factors may weaken the virus. If all wear face coverings and frequently sanitize their hands, it could be even safer.

COVID-19 outbreaks are happening in places where people are in proximity for extended periods of time, such as long-term care centers, jails and meat processing plants. Many experts say being outside is relatively safe, though precautions still should be taken.

Recently driving through neighborhoods near the University of Iowa campus, I have seen groups of up to a dozen 20-somethings lounging outside with red plastic cups, much to the consternation of local busybodies, I’m sure.

You could send police out to “educate” citizens and break up the porch parties, but I know Iowa City’s young adults well enough to tell you they probably won’t disperse and go home to soberly quarantine. They will keep the party going inside, cut off from the natural elements that may reduce their risk of contracting the infection.

Compared with crowded house parties and sweaty dance floors, outdoor cocktails seem like an obvious choice.

The balance here isn’t between letting people do nothing and letting them do some things — it’s about recognizing people will do things, and offering them legal avenues to reduce harmful consequences. Encourage people to limit their numbers, practice good hygiene and keep their distance, but don’t continue outlawing their daily activities.

It’s clear that some portion of Iowans are committed to not strictly obeying social distancing guidelines. It’s also clear we don’t have the political will or adequate law enforcement resources to detain all of them, nor should we want to. Let the people drink outside.

adam.sullivan@thegazette.com; (319) 339-3156

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