When the weather begins to turn cool in the fall, we start thinking about flu season. We head to the doctor’s office, pharmacy or other location for a flu shot.
Winter comes, and we hope the shot prevents the illness that annually circles the globe. By the time spring breaks, we know there’s still a threat of flu, but it’s on the run. By the time summer hits and temperatures get really toasty, we forget all about the flu.
Will the same be said about the coronavirus?
The truth is, we don’t know for sure.
While many are hoping that summertime will put an end to this malady, there’s a lot of uncertainty about warmer weather and what it’s going to do to COVID-19.
Why? We simply haven’t seen how it behaves over time. The virus is so new (it’s a novel coronavirus) that the opportunity hasn’t been there to perform appropriate studies to see what will occur with it in hot weather. Medical professionals are publishing research every week, but we need more knowledge and more time.
Here are some of the pros
Studies have maintained that warmer weather and higher humidity slows down influenza. And we do know the biggest outbreaks for coronavirus are in areas with relatively cooler temperatures. For instance, a study conducted in late January in China found the virus was more contagious in the country’s cooler northern regions than in the warmer southern regions.
It’s possible that, like the flu, the coronavirus infections could see seasonal variations.
Sunlight can cause COVID-19 to die quicker on surfaces. It has a potential of having a positive impact, but we don’t know how that will translate clinically in terms of infections. We don’t know if it dying on surfaces translates to fewer cases overall, especially as most transmissions normally happen via people breathing on one another, with surfaces playing a smaller role.
Here are some of the cons
In places that are warmer and have higher humidity, such as in Latin America, people are experiencing outbreaks.
Plus, with COVID-19, there are different methods of transfer, including tiny particles that can remain in the air and are unlikely to be eliminated by heat.
More people get infected by one person with COVID-19 than with influenza. For this reason, weather changes may not eliminate COVID-19 infections
It’s hard to know if traditional patterns seen with the flu will hold true with COVID-19. We can’t make the same assumption that June will roll around and everything will be fine. Additionally, seasonal reduction in the virus may precede resurgence of higher infection rates in the fall.
For these reasons, it’s important to take physical distancing recommendations seriously, regardless of the weather.
Let’s see what happens
One thing for certain is warm weather is good for the soul
. We all feel less confined when the weather is nice. You have a little bit more flexibility to be outside and still honor physical distancing. It’s easier to cope with stay-at-home orders or other major societal changes when we have more sunlight and longer days.
But whether we will achieve measurable reductions in cases of coronavirus when summer arrives is still up in the air.
Seuli Brill is an internist and pediatrician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and an associate professor at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.