A leading expert in communicable diseases says we should not rely on hot summer weather to snuff out the virus.
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and the director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said that while there may be a slight downgrade in its activity, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, will not be humbled by heat.
President Donald Trump has claimed that as the weather gets warmer, COVID-19 will go away. Many people ascribe to this theory, citing the fact that SARS in 2003 seemed to dispel in a similar fashion. Here's why Lipsitch disagrees:
"We may expect modest declines in the contagiousness of SARS-CoV-2 in warmer, wetter weather and perhaps with the closing of schools in temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. However, it is not reasonable to expect these declines alone to slow transmission enough to make a big dent," said Lipsitch in an article written for the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Lipsitch said that SARS "did not die of natural causes" after the 2003 outbreak. He asserted that the disease was killed by intense public interventions such as aggressive control measures in the countries most affected.
He added that while cold, drier conditions are usually more favorable to the transmission of influenza, experts don't know how the current virus reacts to temperature.
"Singapore, which lies near the equator, has had significant transmission" of the novel coronavirus, he said.
In a letter to the White House, members of the National Academy of Science committee said data is mixed on whether coronavirus spreads as easily in warm weather as it does in cold weather, according to CNN. The letter recommended sustained vigilance on the part of health officials.
"There is some evidence that coronavirus may transit less effectively in environments with higher ambient temperatures and humidity, however, given the lack of host immunity globally, this reduction in transmission efficiency may not lead to a significant reduction in disease spread without the concomitant adoption of major public health interventions," the letter reads.
Lipsitch explained one reason we see more transmission of viruses in the winter is that "humans spend more time indoors with less ventilation and less personal space than outdoors in the summer." A prime example is the 2009 pandemic flu in the U.S. which waned in the summer and then came back rapidly in September when schools reopened.
Another factor is the host's immune system itself. Lipsitch said that the average person's immune system is worse in winter because of lower melatonin and vitamin D levels in the environment due to reduced ultraviolet light exposure.
The most important point, however, is that with a new virus, anything can happen "out of season." Most individuals have built up immunity to old viruses which now have to operate on a thinner margin, said Lipsitch.
In summary, he said: "For the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, we have reason to expect that like other coronaviruses, it may transmit somewhat more efficiently in winter than in summer, though we don't know the mechanisms responsible. The size of the change is expected to be modest, and not enough to stop transmission on its own."
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