Will summer actually slow the spread of coronavirus?

Despite hopes that summer will slow the coronavirus’ spread, scientists remain cautious about what the upcoming season will mean for the virus in the Northern Hemisphere, including Colorado.

A recent study by the Massachusetts Institute for Technology highlights some of the uncertainty. The MIT study says, perhaps somewhat ominously, that a seasonal weather change may not have any impact on stemming spread, and that only continued social distancing can do so.

“Our results in no way suggest that (coronavirus) would not spread in warm humid regions and effective public health interventions should be implemented across the world to slow down the transmission of (coronavirus),” the MIT study said late last month.

There are more recent signs that summer may not be the savior, either, including the resurgence of cases in tropical Singapore, and the March spike in cases in central and southern South America, where summer is only just coming to a close.

“In the last 10 days, thousands of new cases have been documented in regions with (temperatures over 64 degrees Fahrenheit) suggesting that the role of warmer temperature in slowing the spread of the (coronavirus), as suggested earlier might only be observed, if at all, at much higher temperatures,” the MIT study wrote.

But there is increasing curiosity about the effect humidity might have. There are signals that areas with especially high humidity levels — which wouldn’t include Colorado, obviously — “could see a slowdown in transmissions, due to climatic factors,” according to the MIT study.

As with temperature, humidity’s impact on the virus’ spread remains largely uncertain.

“I don’t know whether humidity will specifically help or hurt viral transmission dynamics, but I do strongly believe that it is part of the complex picture that affects transmission,” said Dr. Stefan Baral, an epidemiologist at John Hopkins University, said in an email to The Denver Post.

The reason that summer’s impact on coronavirus is still so uncertain primarily comes down to three things: the huge differences in testing levels and capabilities by country and region, the socioeconomic spreads among the analyzed countries, and, most importantly, the evolving understanding of the virus itself.

There’s also concern that people’s summer activities in warm, humid climates could spark a summertime resurgence, especially if social distancing guidelines are allowed to relax. Beaches could be an area of particular concern for the summertime spread of the virus.

“Air is not stagnant outdoors, especially at the beach, so it can carry aerosols further than six feet,” said Dr. Kim Prather, a professor of atmospheric chemistry at the University of California San Diego.

A six-foot social distancing rule won’t be sufficient at the beach, the professor said.

Local epidemiologists have previously hypothesized that Colorado’s climate may be beneficial to stemming the virus’ spread, but again, uncertainty is the dominant theme in any potential forecast about weather’s impact.

“The data analyzed here are rapidly changing and with several unknowns, including how the virus is mutating and evolving, what are the reproductive numbers and the dominant way of spreading,” the MIT study concluded.

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