Though the coronavirus began circulating in the winter, in the U.S., the spread accelerated in March, as the days were beginning to get warmer. But ever since the early days of the pandemic, we've heard that the virus may really thrive in cold temperatures. And with the thermostat dropping and a second wave looming, the question of whether cold season is a high-risk time feels especially urgent.
Some states in the northern part of the U.S., where temperatures have been dropping, have already reported increases in COVID-19 cases, reports Reuters.
The experts say that the main problem with cold temperatures is that our behaviors during the winter might set the stage for some super-spreading. "Typically with viruses, the problem during the winter months is that people are in more confined spaces and breathing the same air for an extended period of time," Shannon Sovndal, MD, an emergency medical services medical director in Boulder, Colorado and the author of Fragile, tells Refinery29. That's an issue, given that it's been made apparent that COVID-19 thrives in crowded environments, especially indoors.
Besides the fact that winter drives people inside, indoor heating may dry out your nostrils, making you more susceptible to catching viruses. Short days and less time outdoors means we're generating less vitamin D, which may help us to combat sickness.
As for whether COVID-19 survives better in cold air, that's up for debate. In general, viruses may survive better in colder, drier climates. More studies need to be done to confirm that's true for COVID, but it may not be. "The life span of the virus doesn't change drastically from what we've seen so far [in colder months]," Dr Sovndal explains.
He points out that we still don't know much about COVID-19 and how it spreads, though (even the CDC keeps changing their minds) so it's better to be safe than sorry, especially this year. As the weather gets chillier, remember that socially distancing from others is crucial. If you have to be in a public or crowded indoor space, make sure to wear a mask, wash your hands, and stay as far apart from other people as possible. Get your flu shot, and you may also want to keep tabs on the number of positive cases in your area. If the numbers start to climb, use that as an opportunity to practice additional caution.