The homebound and virus-wary across the Northern Hemisphere, from President Trump to cooped-up schoolchildren, have clung to the possibility that the coronavirus pandemic will fade in hot weather, as some viral diseases do.
But the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, in a public report sent to the White House, has said, in effect: Don’t get your hopes up. After reviewing a variety of research reports, a panel concluded that the studies, of varying quality of evidence, do not offer a basis to believe that summer weather will interfere with the spread of the coronavirus. The pandemic may lessen because of social distancing and other measures, but the evidence so far does not inspire confidence in the benefits of sun and humidity.
The report, sent to Kelvin Droegemeier, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House and acting director of the National Science Foundation, was a brief nine-page communication known as a rapid expert consultation.
Kristian Andersen, an immunologist at the Scripps Research Translational Institute in California and a member of the Standing Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and 21st Century Health Threats at the National Academies, said: “Given current data, we believe that the pandemic likely will not diminish because of summer, and we should be careful not to base policies and strategies around the hope that it will.”
“We might very well see a reduction in spread in the beginning of the summer,” he added, “but we have to be careful not to put that down to a changing climate — it is plausible that such a reduction could be due to other measures put in place.”
Human behavior will be most important. Dr. David Relman, who studies host-microbe interactions at Stanford, said if a human coughs or sneezes enough virus “close enough to the next susceptible person, then temperature and humidity just won’t matter that much.”
The report from the National Academies, independent agencies that advise the government and the public, cited a small number of well-controlled laboratory studies that show that high temperature and humidity can diminish the ability of the novel coronavirus to survive in the environment. But the report noted the studies had limitations that made them less than conclusive.
It also noted that although some reports showed pandemic growth rates peaking in colder conditions, those studies were short and limited. A preliminary finding in one such study, by scientists at M.I.T., found fewer cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in warmer climates, but arrived at no definitive conclusion.
“Specially in the U.S., any effect, even in the summer months, may not be highly visible, so our real chance to stop this virus is indeed through taking quarantine measures,” said Qasim Bukhari, a computational scientist at M.I.T. who is a co-author of the study.
The report sent to the White House also struck a cautionary note: “Given that countries currently in ‘summer’ climates, such as Australia and Iran, are experiencing rapid virus spread, a decrease in cases with increases in humidity and temperature elsewhere should not be assumed,” it said.
Pandemics do not behave the same way seasonal outbreaks do. For the National Academies’ report, researchers looked at the history of flu pandemics as an example. “There have been 10 influenza pandemics in the past 250-plus years — two started in the Northern Hemisphere winter, three in the spring, two in the summer and three in the fall,” the report said. “All had a peak second wave approximately six months after emergence of the virus in the human population, regardless of when the initial introduction occurred.”
On March 16, President Trump said the virus might “wash” through in warmer weather.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, has expressed different opinions about the effect of summer on the virus, some more optimistic than others. In a live-streamed interview on Wednesday, Dr. Howard Bauchner, the editor in chief of The Journal of the American Medical Association, asked him about the fall, which Dr. Fauci said would be very challenging, after a period this summer when “it’s almost certainly going to go down a bit.”
On March 26, however, in a conversation on Instagram with Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, Dr. Fauci said that although it wasn’t unreasonable to assume the summer weather could diminish the spread, “you don’t want to count on it.”
Knvul Sheikh contributed reporting.
Updated April 11, 2020
When will this end?
This is a difficult question, because a lot depends on how well the virus is contained. A better question might be: “How will we know when to reopen the country?” In an American Enterprise Institute report, Scott Gottlieb, Caitlin Rivers, Mark B. McClellan, Lauren Silvis and Crystal Watson staked out four goal posts for recovery: Hospitals in the state must be able to safely treat all patients requiring hospitalization, without resorting to crisis standards of care; the state needs to be able to at least test everyone who has symptoms; the state is able to conduct monitoring of confirmed cases and contacts; and there must be a sustained reduction in cases for at least 14 days.
How can I help?
Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities using a numbers-based system, has a running list of nonprofits working in communities affected by the outbreak. You can give blood through the American Red Cross, and World Central Kitchen has stepped in to distribute meals in major cities. More than 30,000 coronavirus-related GoFundMe fund-raisers have started in the past few weeks. (The sheer number of fund-raisers means more of them are likely to fail to meet their goal, though.)
What should I do if I feel sick?
If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.
Should I wear a mask?
The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.
How do I get tested?
If you’re sick and you think you’ve been exposed to the new coronavirus, the C.D.C. recommends that you call your healthcare provider and explain your symptoms and fears. They will decide if you need to be tested. Keep in mind that there’s a chance — because of a lack of testing kits or because you’re asymptomatic, for instance — you won’t be able to get tested.
How does coronavirus spread?
It seems to spread very easily from person to person, especially in homes, hospitals and other confined spaces. The pathogen can be carried on tiny respiratory droplets that fall as they are coughed or sneezed out. It may also be transmitted when we touch a contaminated surface and then touch our face.
Is there a vaccine yet?
No. Clinical trials are underway in the United States, China and Europe. But American officials and pharmaceutical executives have said that a vaccine remains at least 12 to 18 months away.
What makes this outbreak so different?
Unlike the flu, there is no known treatment or vaccine, and little is known about this particular virus so far. It seems to be more lethal than the flu, but the numbers are still uncertain. And it hits the elderly and those with underlying conditions — not just those with respiratory diseases — particularly hard.
What if somebody in my family gets sick?
If the family member doesn’t need hospitalization and can be cared for at home, you should help him or her with basic needs and monitor the symptoms, while also keeping as much distance as possible, according to guidelines issued by the C.D.C. If there’s space, the sick family member should stay in a separate room and use a separate bathroom. If masks are available, both the sick person and the caregiver should wear them when the caregiver enters the room. Make sure not to share any dishes or other household items and to regularly clean surfaces like counters, doorknobs, toilets and tables. Don’t forget to wash your hands frequently.
Should I stock up on groceries?
Plan two weeks of meals if possible. But people should not hoard food or supplies. Despite the empty shelves, the supply chain remains strong. And remember to wipe the handle of the grocery cart with a disinfecting wipe and wash your hands as soon as you get home.
Can I go to the park?
Yes, but make sure you keep six feet of distance between you and people who don’t live in your home. Even if you just hang out in a park, rather than go for a jog or a walk, getting some fresh air, and hopefully sunshine, is a good idea.
Should I pull my money from the markets?
That’s not a good idea. Even if you’re retired, having a balanced portfolio of stocks and bonds so that your money keeps up with inflation, or even grows, makes sense. But retirees may want to think about having enough cash set aside for a year’s worth of living expenses and big payments needed over the next five years.
What should I do with my 401(k)?
Watching your balance go up and down can be scary. You may be wondering if you should decrease your contributions — don’t! If your employer matches any part of your contributions, make sure you’re at least saving as much as you can to get that “free money.”
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