Coronavirus numbers are on the rise once again throughout the US after a pretty solid plateau took place over the summer. The sudden increase has some wondering if it could be due to the colder weather many states are starting to experience.
The short answer, according to experts? Well, it might not be so clear cut.
“It is not yet known whether weather and temperature affect the spread of COVID-19. Some other viruses, like those that cause the common cold and flu, spread more during cold weather months but that does not mean it is impossible to become sick with these viruses during other months,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported. “There is much more to learn about the transmissibility, severity, and other features associated with COVID-19 and investigations are ongoing.”
It is true that many viruses are known to spread more easily during the winter months. However, experts are saying this might not necessarily be due to cold weather, but due to human behavior.
Cold weather pushes people to gather indoors more frequently, which we know makes it easier to transmit the virus through the air, especially when it comes to larger gatherings in close quarters. With the holidays coming up, this could prove problematic when it comes to the fight against COVID-19.
“Bringing it inside is probably the biggest concern and then it’s about what type of ventilation you have,” Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box said.
Box also said it’s important for young adults to keep in mind this holiday season that while they may only suffer mild, or even no, symptoms of COVID-19, they can still carry and transmit the virus to vulnerable friends and family members.
“We need to look at the population that is bringing this to individuals,” Box said. “There is some evidence that about 80% of 20-30 year olds are asymptomatic. So we need to continue the messaging there and really reach out to those individuals.”
A study from The University of Texas at Austin supported the claim that gathering indoors is the main issue, after concluding that temperature and humidity really don’t play a significant role at all in coronavirus spread.
“The effect of weather is low and other features such as mobility have more impact than weather,” research leader Dev Niyogi said. “In terms of relative importance, weather is one of the last parameters.”
The research, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, found that, indeed, weather had little to no impact on the spread of coronavirus — less than 3%, in fact. However, they did find a clear influence on viral spread when it came to human behavior.
They found that going on trips and spending time away from home were the two main factors contributing to increased cases of COVID-19. They contributed to about 34% and 26% of the viral spread respectively.
“We shouldn’t think of the problem as something driven by weather and climate,” study co-author Sajad Jamshidi said. “We should take personal precautions, be aware of the factors in urban exposure.”
So what does this look like? It means possibly reconsidering your travel plans this holiday season, especially if you are going to be around someone who might be high-risk. It means masking up anytime you leave the house no matter what. It means avoiding gathering in large groups, especially with those outside of your normal circle of friends and family. Basically, try to avoid unnecessary trips outside the house as much as possible.
There are some other theories about why the virus may spread more in the winter, but as of right now it’s all speculation. One theory is that people produce less vitamin D in the winter, so their immune systems are weaker and less capable of fighting off viruses. Others say that cold, dry air does result in easier virus transmission (this is true when it comes to the flu).
“I do worry about this pandemic potentially getting worse this winter,” immunologist Akiko Iwasaki said. “All the same kind of concerns that usually apply to other respiratory infections are the same with this virus.”
Regardless, it’s important to take every precaution you can this winter season. Stay inside and avoid gathering in large groups. Wear your mask. Keep your loved ones at a distance for just a little longer to keep them safe. This will pass if everyone can stay inside and stay safe.
“We don’t know where this is going to end up — we haven’t had a year with it yet,” Iwasaki said. “I think we have to be extra cautious going into the winter.”