COVID-19 cases can warm up in colder weather – Community News
Covid-19

COVID-19 cases can warm up in colder weather

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Experts hope vaccinations and safety protocols will minimize the increase in COVID-19 cases this winter.
Anastasiia Shavshyna/Getty Images
  • New cases of COVID-19 have begun to rise in some northern states, prompting experts to express concerns that colder winter weather could increase the number of cases again.
  • They say that’s because people tend to gather more indoors when it’s colder. In addition, people travel during the holidays.
  • However, they note that the higher number of people vaccinated, as well as infection-acquired immunity and ongoing safety protocols may minimize the increase.

If you’ve been following the data on COVID-19, you’d see why there’s reason for some optimism.

The number of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths has decreased in recent weeks as more people are vaccinated and safety protocols remain intact in many places.

But in recent weeks, cases have been on the rise again in some Northeast and Midwestern states, while increasing in Alaska. Five states — Iowa, Oklahoma, Alaska, Vermont and New Hampshire — have seen a 10 percent increase in COVID-19 cases in the past 2 weeks.

That has raised concerns about whether the colder weather is playing a role. Lower temperatures and rainy weather tend to drive people indoors, many of whom don’t wear masks.

“We are always concerned that as the weather gets colder and more and more people go indoors, they will spend more time indoors working closely with each other. That’s an environment where respiratory viruses will spread,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Tennessee.

But Schaffner also said COVID-19 cases had also risen in the warmer weather months. Plus, the vaccine and infection-acquired immunity could make all the difference this winter.

“We don’t know for sure because we’ve definitely had a rapid transfer now over the past two summers, 2020 and 2021,” Schaffner told Healthline. “I think that’s a very reasonable hypothesis. We’re just going to see how this evolves in the future.”

dr. Ali Mokdad, professor of epidemiology and global health at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, says there are two factors behind the rise in cases in states that are already experiencing colder temperatures.

“The reason we are now seeing a spike in cases in the north is because the Delta variant arrived a little later in the north than in the south,” Mokdad told Healthline. “So Florida peaked for states like Michigan and Minnesota.”

“Weather also plays a big role. And what you see in many of the southern states now is that the weather is now so good that people can still eat outside and party outside. That helps them,” he says.

“The fact that it’s getting colder in the northern states and people are moving in, that’s going to work against them,” Mokdad said.

The IHME predicts that the winter season could reverse the positive numbers we’ve seen, with another moderate wave of cases, although not like we saw last winter.

“At the national level, things will increase towards the end of November. It will peak sometime in January,” Mokdad said.

“In the coming increase, it will not reach the level that we have seen in the summer, but it will increase,” he said. “Deaths and hospitalizations will also rise, but not in proportion to the cases. It won’t be what we saw last summer or winter, because the vaccines are very effective and more and more people are being vaccinated.”

Mokdad says winter vacation trips added to the mix could make matters worse.

“People travel. They come together for activities and social events,” he said. “So if you put these all together, we’re going to see a surge in the coming winter and things will increase.”

Experts say the winter picture could also get more complicated if a new, highly contagious coronavirus variant emerges. We are already working on the Delta variant.

Mokdad said it is key to vaccinating more people, and the mandates appear to be helping. Vaccinating younger children would also be of great help.

“The fact that children ages 5 to 11 may be allowed to be vaccinated, hopefully soon, that’s 6 to 7 percent of the population. That will help us to have a larger group of vaccinated people before the holidays,” he said.

“The booster will help. Even if you look at states that were early adopters, they may now face declining immunity and lower infection rates,” he said.

But one of the biggest complications could be the flu this winter.

“We expect a bigger flu epidemic this year. The combination of flu and COVID-19 admissions can put a lot of pressure on our hospitals,” Mokdad said.