Warmer weather is unlikely to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus, Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, said in a blog post Tuesday.
“Climate only would become an important seasonal factor in controlling COVID-19 once a large proportion of people within a given community are immune or resistant to infection,” Collins wrote, citing experts in infectious disease transmission and climate modeling.
“We’ll obviously have to wait a few months to get the data. But for now, many researchers have their doubts that the COVID-19 pandemic will enter a needed summertime lull,” he added.
President Trump repeatedly speculated early in the pandemic that summer heat would lessen the spread and possibly kill the virus altogether.
Collins said some lab experiments have suggested that increased heat and humidity might “reduce the visibility of SARS-CoV-2,” possibly in a way similar to other coronaviruses, like the common cold, that spread more slowing during warmer weather. But he emphasized that Covid-19 is different.
He pointed to a series of computer simulations published in the journal Science by researchers at Princeton Environmental Institute that showed how the virus will likely spread this summer.
“This research team found that humans’ current lack of immunity to SARS-CoV-2—not the weather—will likely be a primary factor driving the continued, rapid spread of the novel coronavirus this summer and into the fall,” Collins wrote.
He said the earlier studies that hinted hot temperatures could slow the pandemic down focused on better known infectious diseases. Even if one assumed the coronavirus was as sensitive to climate as other seasonal viruses, hot weather would not be enough to slow down its initial and rapid spread through the population.
“Less clear is how seasonal variations in the weather might modulate the spread of a new virus that the vast majority of people and their immune systems have yet to encounter,” Collins wrote.
However, researchers have suggested that as more people develop immunity, Covid-19 might fall into seasonal patterns similar to outbreaks caused by other coronaviruses.
Collins said he’s hopeful that the NIH will have developed effective treatments and vaccine for the virus long before that.
He also suggested that one of the climate models showed that, along with warmer temperatures, if people continue social distancing and wearing masks this summer, those actions could help slow the spread of the deadly virus.