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Will Warmer Weather Help Stop COVID-19?

Will Warmer Weather Help Stop COVID-19?

The novel coronavirus pandemic won’t necessarily fade away in spring and summer with cold and flu season. Here’s why.

Updated March 17, 2020; 2:00pm EST

Like many other people, as COVID-19 continues to make its way across the world, you may be hoping that warmer weather will slow the spread of the disease. After all, the flu typically peaks between December and February, and then recedes during spring and summer. Colds tend to wane during summer months, as well. But will COVID-19 act in a similar manner, fading away as the temperature rises?

What the experts say
In short, no one knows. The outbreak began in December 2019 and COVID-19 was identified by January 2020. Scientists are still working to understand how the novel coronavirus affects the body and how efficiently it spreads. There is no data to support the idea that it will retreat due to warmer conditions.

“At this time, it is not known whether the spread of COVID-19 will decrease when weather becomes warmer,” cautions the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “There is much more to learn about the transmissibility, severity, and other features associated with COVID-19 and investigations are ongoing.”

"It's a false hope to say, yes, that it will just disappear in the summertime like the influenza virus," Dr. Mike Ryan, Executive Director of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Health Emergencies Program, told reporters on March 6. "We hope it does; that would be a godsend. But we can't make that assumption. And there is no evidence right now to suggest that will happen."

The role of weather
Here’s why many have speculated that weather may be a factor. The disease is a coronavirus, a type of virus known to have some seasonality, meaning it often comes and goes with certain seasons. Like the flu, some of these illnesses are theorized to spread more easily in winter months due to lower humidity and because people tend to congregate indoors, passing germs to one another—particularly in more crowded, poorly ventilated conditions.

In areas with warm summers and cold winters, coronavirus infections may tend to occur in the cooler months, but these infections can still happen at any time of the year. 

But there are a wide range of other variables that likely affect COVID-19’s spread. Sunlight duration, population density, human behavior, public health interventions and individual healthcare systems can also influence how quickly the disease is passed from person to person. Taken altogether, it’s impossible to predict whether COVID will retreat when warmer weather rolls around. And even if it does, it likely won’t fade completely.

Isn’t it like other viruses?
Public health experts warn against assuming COVID-19 is just like the flu. Though they both may have some seasonality, no one currently understands enough about COVID-19 to draw definite conclusions about similar behavior in warm weather. For example, humans have not built up immunity to COVID-19, as we have for the flu, which may affect transmission in spring and summer.

Experts also caution against comparing COVID-19 to another pair of major coronaviruses, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), since neither is considered to be seasonal.

The 2002-2003 SARS outbreak wasn’t slowed by warming weather; rather, the damage was mitigated by intense public health interventions in affected countries, including China, Vietnam and Canada. And the 2012 MERS outbreak, which started in Saudi Arabia, never truly went away. More than 850 people have died of MERS in the years since it began, the World Health Organization reports. 

Tips to prevent the spread of COVID-19
Bottom line? Don’t count on warmer weather to slow or stop COVID-19. Instead, help prevent infection with these tips from the CDC:

  • Wash your hands. Use soap and water and scrub for at least 20 seconds. If you don’t have access to soap and water, try hand sanitizer containing a minimum of 60 percent alcohol. Don’t touch your eyes, nose and mouth if you haven’t washed your hands, especially after eating or using the bathroom.
     
  • Avoid people with the virus. Practice social distancing and steer clear of crowds and non-essential travel. If COVID-19 is found in your community, stay home as much as you can to avoid being exposed or unknowingly passing the infection on to others. Older people and those with chronic medical conditions, such as heart or lung disease and diabetes, are at high risk for severe disease or life-threatening complications.  
     
  • Protect others. Cover your mouth with a clean tissue when you sneeze or cough. If you don’t have a tissue, use your upper sleeve or elbow—not your hands. Clean and disinfect dirty surfaces that people tend to touch, like doorknobs, phones and handles. If you’re sick, stay home unless it’s for necessary medical care.

If you’ve been exposed to COVID-19 or have recently traveled to an affected area such as South Korea, Iran, Italy or other parts of Western Europe, take immediate steps to isolate yourself and call your healthcare provider. 

If you develop any warning signs of infection, call your HCP for instructions. Before going to a doctor’s office or emergency room, be sure to call ahead and inform the medical staff that you may have been exposed to COVID-19. Your HCP will work with your local public health department and the CDC to determine if you need to be tested for the coronavirus.

Medically reviewed in March 2020.

Sources:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “The Flu Season,” “Common Cold,” “Coronavirus Disease 19 (COVID-19): Frequently Asked Questions and Answers,” “Coronavirus Disease 19 (COVID-19): Steps to Prevent Illness.”
Maria Cheng and Victoria Milko. “Will heat stop the spread of new virus? No one really knows.” Associated Press. March 12, 2020.
World Health Organization. “Virtual Press Conference, 6 March 2020, on COVID-19 (Transcript),” “MERS Situation Update, November 2019.”
UptoDate.com. “Coronaviruses.”
Andrew Freedman and Jason Samenow. “Coronavirus may have a seasonal cycle, but that doesn’t mean it will go away this summer, experts warn.” Washington Post. March 11, 2020.
Allison Aubrey. “Can Coronavirus Be Crushed By Warmer Weather?” NPR. February 12, 2020.
Sarah Gibbens. “Will warming spring temperatures slow the coronavirus outbreak?” NationalGeographic.com. March 6, 2020.
MM Sajadi, P Habibzadeh, et al. “Temperature and Latitude Analysis to Predict Potential Spread and Seasonality for COVID-19.” Social Science Research Network. March 10, 2020.
Ari Alstedter and John Lauerman. “Will Warm Weather Curb Coronavirus? What the Experts Say.” Bloomberg News. March 12, 2020.
Ted Regencia. “Will warmer weather slow the spread of coronavirus?” AlJazeera.com. March 11, 2020.
Berkeley Lovelace Jr. and Noah Higgins-Dunn. “WHO says coronavirus death rate is 3.4% globally, higher than previously thought.” CNBC.com. March 3, 2020.
Amy Gunia. “Will Warmer Weather Stop the Spread of the Coronavirus? Don't Count on It, Say Experts.” Time.com. February 28, 2020.

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