New York City is retreating indoors, and while plenty of people were still out in the city's parks this weekend, one—the elevated, at times narrow, and frequently crowded High Line—has just closed due to the spread of COVID-19. Over the past week we've been seeing movie theaters, Broadway and off-Broadway theaters, restaurants, bars, cafes, museums and just about every other non-essential establishment close... but the outdoor spaces have remained a haven in this strange time.

Are parks safe, though? Stephen Morse, infectious disease epidemiologist and Professor of Epidemiology at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, told Gothamist this morning that even when outdoors, people should be careful.

"We’re still learning as we go.  I can readily understand the temptation to go out, especially when the weather is good.  For now, I’d say same precautions apply as elsewhere: 6-ft distance from others not in your household, same 'respiratory etiquette' (cover coughs and sneezes) and 'hand hygiene' (after touching surfaces, clean hands before touching face)." He added that he'd "expect it would be easier to practice these precautions in a park, as well as cheering us up."

On Brian Lehrer this morning, a caller asked Dr. Irwin Redlener, the director of Columbia University's National Center for Disaster Preparedness, about parks as well. "Living near a park, this has come up in my family," but ultimately said "this becomes a personal decision... there's no data."

A crowded High Line in 2018

Scott Lynch / Gothamist

Social distancing is easier in larger parks, but the High Line is unique, functioning more as an elevated walking park. In their announcement, they wrote:

This was a difficult decision. However, given new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about limiting gatherings of 50 or more people, the closure of NYC public schools, and the mayor's limitations on restaurants and bars, we cannot ensure the safety of visitors, volunteers, or staff. This decision was informed by recommendations from public officials, the CDC, and the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene on social distancing as a means to contain community spread of COVID-19. While we fundamentally believe in the power of parks, especially during challenging times, we have to think about public health and safety. As an elevated park, the High Line’s design includes staircases and narrow paths. These unique conditions make it hard for us to meet the social distancing requirements of keeping at least six feet between people.

They noted you can visit their online photo galleries, adding, "looking at nature, even just in photos, has proven to lower stress."

Last Thursday, photographer Tod Seelie went to the High Line, and found it had already mostly emptied out—click through for a look.