It?s 99? Out?Why Isn?t the Summer Heat Killing COVID-19?
Jul 20 2020

It’s 99° Out—Why Isn’t the Summer Heat Killing COVID-19?

By: John Glover

Back in March and April, some people were forecasting—overly optimistically, it turns out—that the coronavirus's spread would give way before the onslaught of summer temperature highs. The test of time has not borne out those predictions. In recent weeks, it's been some of the Southern states—and, therefore, among the hottest and most humid ones—such as Florida and Texas, that have experienced the most gruesome spikes in cases. A recent article in Business Insider outlines some of the reasons for this discrepancy between expectation and outcome.

The spring hope that people had in the summer's disease-stifling capability relied on our common frame of reference. In terms of getting sick, we're all used to the winter months being the de facto flu and common-cold season, the time when scores of people line up at their local pharmacy or wherever to get their shots voluntarily. The coronavirus isn't such a distant relative of the flu, this line of reasoning held. So, why should its seasonal pattern vary?

It turns out that this idea, though specious in retrospect, isn't completely unfounded. There's sound epidemiology to back up the claim that airborne diseases spread more easily in cold weather. "Cooler temperatures help harden a protective gel-like coating that surrounds the virus while it's in the air," Business Insider reports. This shell is to a virus as wind is to a wildfire: It facilitates. Warmer temperatures, on the other hand, dampen the coating, making it more difficult for viruses to get around.

Recent studies suggest that the coronavirus is no different in this regard. Researchers tested COVID-19 to find out how long it could stick around on an inert surface in a high-temperature environment as opposed to a frigid one. They found that the virus lasted longer in the low-temperature setting, suggesting that the virus is comparatively more dangerous when it's cold outside than when it's warm.

While we might expect the coronavirus to ultimately settle into a seasonal pattern reminiscent of the flu or common cold, for the time being, it's going to continue to spread through the population like a knife cutting into butter. Because very few people have immunities to this disease as a result of its novelty, we can offer it relatively little or futile resistance. That's not to say, however, the news is all negative.

The science concerning the relationship between COVID-19 and climate could offer a glimmer of hope. Though the coronavirus's novelty makes it nigh-on unstoppable, it isn't invulnerable. The restrictive effect on the pathogen from the warm weather we're having could offer us an advantage over it, if we're prepared to do the work in other areas. The summer is no deus ex machina. It isn't about to deliver us from the coronavirus unilaterally. But if we shore up our resources and efforts in other areas—such as quarantining when possible and taking the proper precautions in public when necessary—the summer heat could buttress us with more of a fighting chance at flattening the curve.


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