What You Need To Know About COVID-19 Transmission and the Weather

Photo: Getty Images/Prearo and EyeEm
Theories about COVID-19 and how the virus is affected by the weather have been swirling since the beginning of the summer. But a new study conducted by Georgetown University Medical Center, published in the journal Nature Communications, suggests that all of that confusion has led to many misconceptions. Researchers are keen on debunking three in particular so that policymakers (and you) can make the right decisions concerning your health.

"Like other viruses with a lipid envelope, SARS-CoV-2 is probably sensitive to temperature, humidity, and solar radiation; this affects its ability to persist on surfaces and in air, and might have subtle impacts on transmission. But the finer details of microbiology are often lost, leading to false confidence in how lab studies could scale up to the real world," write the study authors, including Colin Carlson, PhD, an assistant professor at Georgetown's Center for Global Health Science and Security, and  Sadie Ryan, PhD, a medical geographer at the University of Florida and senior author of the study, among othersIn other words, the medical community simply doesn't know enough about how the virus interacts with humidity, heat, snow, fog, and other weather patterns to gamble people's lives based on that knowledge.

For you, that means acknowledging three nuances when you find yourself thinking that COVID-19 can't survive in this summer heat. First: "No human-settled area in the world is protected from COVID-19 transmission by virtue of weather, at any point in the year," according to the study. Safety measures, like staying six feet apart and wearing a mask, are important no matter your local climate.

Second, the researchers emphasize the fact that COVID-19 will likely become a seasonal condition in the long term, in certain geographical locations but that's not the case yet. "In the future, seasonality could lead to worse outcomes in the winter, but in the near term, weather is unlikely to prevent SARS-CoV-2 epidemics in the summer. Policymakers should be careful about forecasts that predict lower or no transmission in hot, dry weather," write the study authors. Beach weather does not equal immunity.

Last but not least is the fact that "all pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical interventions are currently believed to have a stronger impact on transmission over space and time than any environmental driver," write the study authors. Meaning, you should put your stock—and health—in COVID-19 tests, future vaccines, and World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations far before you consult the weather report of your hometown to decide how safe or unsafe you are. There are a lot of myths about COVID-19 out there—don't let warm weather be one that fools you.

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