CDC: Winter is Coming… Be Ready for COVID-20

Winter is Coming… Be Ready for COVID-20

  • The warning comes as countries in the North America brace for a potential uptick in Covid-19 cases during the winter months.
  • “If you have a widespread circulating virus, I think it is a reasonable to assume that transmission will become much more intense in winter,” Michael Baker, an epidemiologist at the University of Otago in Wellington, New Zealand said.
  • In winter, lots of people spend more time indoors clustered together, with less ventilation and less personal space.

Health experts expect much cooler weather conditions in the winter to trigger a far more intense transmission of the Covid-19 infection, warning it is “highly likely” the illness will show a similar seasonal pattern to other coronaviruses.

The warning comes as countries in the Southern Hemisphere brace for a potential uptick in Covid-19 cases during the winter months.

To date, more than 6.1 million people have contracted the coronavirus around the world, with 372,099 deaths, according to data gathered by Johns Hopkins University.

The pandemic has brought large numbers of the world economies to a halt in just a matter of months, with political leaders imposing stringent measures on the daily lives of billions of people.

President Donald Trump had previously suggested that the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes, Covid-19, would “miraculously” go away, "just fade away" on its own during warmer summer weather in the Northern Hemisphere.

But, Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology at Harvard has said he expects a small decline in the contagiousness of the coronavirus in warmer, wetter weather, “it is not reasonable to expect this decline to slow transmission to make a large dent.”

In winter,  Lispitch said,  he did believes Covid-19 “may transmit somewhat more efficiently” when it's compared to summer.

The size of the change was expected to be modest and Lispitch admitted he did not yet know the the reasons why. However, colder, dryer air both indoors and outdoors, and the way people behave during winter were all cited as reasons likely to impact the trajectory of the coronavirus.

“I think it is a relevant point,” Simon Thornley, senior lecturer of epidemiology and biostatistics researcher at Auckland University in New Zealand, told CNBC via telephone.

It is “highly likely” Covid-19 will show a similar seasonal pattern to other common human coronaviruses, he continued, mentioning HKU1, 229E and OC43.

These coronaviruses all cause flu-like illness, Thornley said, “or at least they have a much higher peak in the winter.”

What is it about winter weather?

In winter, more people tend to congregate indoors clustered together, with less ventilation and less personal space.

Respiratory infections, such as coronaviruses, which are spread by droplets that are released when a person coughs or sneezes. Health experts say colder and drier conditions in winter strongly affects the transmission of flu-like illnesses. Also, the airborne aerasols have extended spread of the virus closer to 12 feet rather than 6 feet.

“It’s not just in Game of Thrones that winter is always coming — it is true in every health service,” Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, said during an online Gresham College lecture in late spring.

He warned a second wave of Covid-19 cases could be “far more severe” than the first, adding that winter is “always worse than summer” for respiratory viruses, and there is a higher likelihood of transmission during the colder months.

Why does New Zealand not need to worry?

“If you have a widespread circulating virus, I think it is a reasonable to assume that transmission will become far more intense in winter,” Michael Baker, an epidemiologist at the University of Otago in Wellington, New Zealands said. 

Baker said coronaviruses, and indeed all respiratory and flu viruses, were “highly seasonal” in temperate countries like much of Europe and North America, as they are in New Zealand and Australia.

However, he said there might be some very good news for New Zealand, before adding: “We hopefully won’t have to worry about winter because the virus may be eliminated here.”

New Zealand, which will enter the winter season on June 21, has been widely regarded for its response to the pandemic.

So far, Zealand has recorded 1,504 cases of the virus, with 22 deaths.

The country of roughly 4.8 million has successfully stopped the local contagion and is taking steps to try to eliminate the virus from its territory, altogether.

Last week, New Zealand’s director-general of health told reporters at the Covid-19 press briefing that the country had discharged its last patient.

‘The pandemic the US should not have had’

The U.S. has recorded by far the highest number of Covid-19 cases and fatalities in the world.

As of Wednesday evening, it had reported more than 180,000 deaths, far more than any other country.

Brazil has recorded the second-highest number of Covid-19 cases to date, with 514,849 reported infections, while as many as 10 other countries have also recorded more than 100,000 cases of the virus as it continues to spread across the globe.

“I just feel quite sad that  in the year 2020, we haven't been able to manage this pandemic — the US should not have had the pandemic this badly,” University of Otago’s Baker said.

“We could have saved a lot of lives and I’m quite shocked in this modern age we have allowed this to happen,” he added.

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