Will Approaching Warmer Weather Halt the Spread of the Coronavirus?

Studies show COVID-19 may not decline in warmer weather, as do colds

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Harvard researchers are discovering that COVID-19, as compared to the common cold, may not decline with warmer weather. Social distancing may be required throughout the summer months in an effort to slow the spread of this virus.

Last month, scientists from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Departments of Epidemiology and of Immunology and Infectious Diseases used close genetic cousins of SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — to model how it might behave in the coming months. A model was developed using common cold viruses HCoV-OC43 and HCoV-HKU1 to examine the impacts of seasonality, social-distancing strategies, and the virus’ future role in causing illness.

Using various model scenarios, it was discovered that warm weather did not halt transmission. This is due to the fact that, with the common cold, a large segment of the population typically gets sick and develops immunity by spring. With SARS-CoV-2, however, enough of the population will likely remain vulnerable, allowing it to spread regardless if transmission is reduced in warmer months.

Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and Harvard researcher, said the seasonal decline in cases illustrated by the work exists, “but it’s also certainly not enough of a seasonal fluctuation … to lead it to go away in the summer in the absence of intervention.”

Therefore, throughout the summer months, social distancing will most likely continue to be encouraged and large gatherings prohibited. Researchers suggested that any resemblance of “normal” will not be possible until a vaccine is achieved, possibly 12-18 months in the future.

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