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Warmer Spring Weather In Kansas City Might Slow COVID-19, But Don't Expect It To Go Away

Jodi Fortino
KCUR 89.3
A couple out for a walk as trees begin to bloom in Loose Park.

Normally by April, most seasonal colds and flu have run their course, and allergies take over as the main culprit for causing coughs and sore throats.

COVID-19 might ease up slightly along with rising temperatures in the Kansas City area, but experts don’t think the disease will turn out to be just a seasonal problem.

“I think there may well be a seasonal component to it, but it’s also true that it’s not going to go away, in the sense that there won’t be cases running around,” says Gregory Glass, a researcher at the University of Florida’s Emerging Pathogens Institute.

COVID-19 has only infected people for a few months, and some researchers initially thought that it might not spread as easily in warm and humid conditions because, while it surged in colder parts of Asia like China and South Korea, few cases had been identified in more tropical countries like Thailand or Vietnam.

Those predictions have turned out to be overly optimistic, as demonstrated by the large numbers of new cases in warm, humid places like Florida and Louisiana.

“If people are really counting on this to control or protect themselves from disease,” Glass says, “it’s really not something I would want to hang my hat on.”

Glass thinks the low case numbers in many tropical countries may be due to lack of testing.

He says that some viruses do seem to spread less easily in warmer weather, but researchers won’t know much about how weather affects COVID-19 until we have lived with it for at least a full year.

But even if warmer temperatures and higher humidity don’t reduce its spread, Glass says that there are things we know about how colds and flu spread that provide some cause for optimism.

He explains that, in fact, the flu and colds don’t really disappear in the spring and summer. They only slow down, and that’s due in part to human behavior.

Cold and flu viruses seem to spread less in the summer in part because school is typically out and people spend less time packed together in confined spaces than they do when it’s cold outside.

If people can manage to slow the spread of COVID-19 through social distancing in the coming weeks and months, they may, just by their own behavior, turn it into more of a seasonal virus.

“Historically, the outbreak started in China in the winter,” Glass says. “If they’ve really controlled for COVID-19 as well as they’ve stated, the cases are going to go down, when? Leading into their summer. So you’ve immediately introduced a seasonality component.”

Glass says that people in the U.S. could also greatly reduce COVID-19 by summer through social distancing, though he cautions that that warmer weather could have the opposite effect if it causes people to crowd together in parks and beaches.

Alex Smith is a health care reporter for KCUR. You can reach him at alexs@kcur.org.

As a health care reporter, I aim to empower my audience to take steps to improve health care and make informed decisions as consumers and voters. I tell human stories augmented with research and data to explain how our health care system works and sometimes fails us. Email me at alexs@kcur.org.
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