Temperature and the coronavirus

One of the key questions pertaining to the Wuhan coronavirus is whether warm weather will stop the pandemic. President Trump has suggested that it will. He says “a lot of people think that [the virus] goes away in April with the heat — as the heat comes in” and that “there’s a theory that, in April, when it gets warm — historically, that has been able to kill the virus.”

Actually, this particular virus is new, so that, strictly speaking, there is no history to rely on. As with so much surrounding the Wuhan coronavirus, we don’t know really know whether warm weather will stop this pandemic.

However, there is reason to think the virus might well “go away with the heat.” For one thing, we know that flu is seasonal, and the Wuhan coronavirus produces flu like symptoms.

In addition, this paper — “Temperature and Latitude Analysis to Predict Potential Spread and Seasonality for COVID-19” — presents evidence linking the Wuhan coronavirus with non-warm weather within a specific range. The authors say:

To date, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), caused by SARS-CoV-2, has established significant community spread in cities and regions only along a narrow east-west distribution roughly along the 30-50 N” corridor at consistently similar weather patterns (5-11 degrees Celsius and 47-79% humidity).

The paper includes a table of cities hard hit by the virus and the temperatures in those cities during the relevant time period. The authors say that in Bangkok, where the temperature has been much higher, the virus has not taken hold.

It should be noted, however, that the virus may be much more prevalent than has been reported in hot weather cities in areas like sub-Saharan Africa, where testing is very rare. And there have been more than 100 reported cases from Singapore.

It’s also important to remember that even if the Wuhan coronavirus goes away in April or May, it might well come back when the weather turns cold again. This possibility is discussed at FiveThirtyEight.

It’s very unlikely that a vaccine will be developed, tested, approved, and made available by the next flu season. By then, however, we will at least be in a better position to cope with the virus.

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