Will the winter be worse?
Many health experts fear that winter will bring a new layer of difficulty and danger to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Though public health advice has evolved since the virus emerged in early 2020, one tenant has remained the same: it’s safer outside.
Outdoor dining, gatherings, workouts, and worship have all provided an essential social release valve for people yearning for human interaction and a small sense of normalcy. But in many areas of the country, harsh winter weather will soon make outdoor gatherings far less feasible.
“There really is no easy way to socialize during late fall and winter in large parts of the country if you’re not doing it outside,” said Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute.
Will Coronavirus Spread More in the Winter?
This is the ultimate question. If people pack into indoor venues, rather than spacing themselves safely outside as they’ve done through the spring and summer, it’s logical to assume the infection rate will increase.
Also of concern is the fact that all viruses survive outside the body better when it’s cold. That’s why flu season occurs in the late fall and winter, not the spring and summer. There’s also less UV light in the winter, which minimizes an important mechanism capable of deactivating the virus.
“I think November, December, January, February are going to be tough months in this country without a vaccine,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
The Science of Indoor Transmission of COVID-19
The exact science of the transmission of COVID-19 is still being explored, but we now know much more than we did back in March.
A growing body of evidence suggests that SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, can spread through more than a sneeze or cough. According to aerosol scientists Lidia Morawska and Donald Milton, the virus can pass from person to person in tiny droplets called aerosols.
These aerosols, just like the aerosols created by hairspray and other common household products, waft through the air and accumulate over time. Scientists like Morawska and Milton say studies have demonstrated “beyond any reasonable doubt” that viruses are released when people exhale and talk. Those microdroplets are so small that they can remain in the air and pose a risk of exposure to others, even from a “safe” social distance.
According to the WHO, “The possibility of airborne transmission in public settings- especially in very specific conditions, crowded, closed, poorly ventilated settings that have been described, cannot be ruled out.”
So where does this leave us in the winter? In a place of vulnerability, according to many experts. Outdoors, the benefit of space, air, and UV light help to dilute any potential virus transmission. But indoors, “the virus can build up” and be more easily inhaled, according to Linsey Marr, and engineering professor at Virginia Tech.
The best solution in sight is to continue with the strict social distancing and mask measures that we’re all familiar with, while keeping all social gatherings away from close, indoor environments.