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“As the weather gets colder, that means the coronavirus can actually stay in the air longer,” said Colin Furness, infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto.
When the virus leaves your body, the cold air helps preserve it and keep it alive longer, Furness explained.
“This is one of the reasons we have flu season during the colder months.”
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Respiratory infections, such as coronaviruses, are spread by droplets that are released when a person coughs or sneezes, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Timothy Sly, an epidemiologist at Ryerson University’s School of Public Health, explained that we don’t exhale viral particles. The virus is found inside droplets of different sizes.
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When the air is dry, which is typical during the winter months, the moisture from the droplets evaporates, “maybe in seconds,” leaving the core of the droplet – containing the virus – to float in the air. air, he said.
This means the droplets are smaller and lighter than they would be in humid weather, which means they could spread further.
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Another reason the spread of the coronavirus could be worse in cold weather is that our mucous membrane dries up in cold weather, making it much harder for the nose to filter out pathogens, Furness said. When the airways dry out, this allows the virus to gain easier access to the body.
“All of these contribute to ideal conditions for respiratory viruses in winter,” Furness said.
But that doesn’t mean it will happen specifically with COVID-19, Sly warned.
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Because the northern hemisphere has yet to experience a full winter with the coronavirus pandemic, it’s really “speculation” at the moment, he said.
But he added that it was always important for people to practice a safe distance and wear masks, even when they are outside during the winter months.
“It’s still the best way to prevent infection,” Sly said.
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Of course, there are other reasons viruses spread during the winter months.
“Winter is coming,” Catherine Smallwood, emergency manager at WHO Europe, said last month, according to CNBC.
“People are traveling more, they are going back to work, schools are reopening – these are all factors that will increase the risk of community transmission and further transmission.
“As the flu season and the winter months approach, there are other factors that are going to merge and add even more to this level of risk,” she said, saying that more people are likely to congregate indoors and in more crowded environments.
Studies focus on COVID-19 and cold weather
It is still not completely clear whether COVID-19 can spread more easily in cold air, but studies have started to look into it.
A study published in August in the journal Transboundary and Emerging Diseases found that the number of COVID-19 cases in Sydney, Australia was increasing as the air became drier and the humidity level decreased.
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“There is growing evidence that climatic factors could influence the course of the current COVID-19 pandemic,” the authors said. “Overall, a decrease in relative humidity of 1% was associated with an increase in cases of 7-8%.”
Temperature and relative humidity can affect the transmission of the coronavirus because the virus can survive longer at lower temperatures, the authors said. The virus can also stay “airborne” longer at lower humidity, they said.
Another study published in August in the journal Science Direct examined the link between average daily temperature and relative humidity and the daily count of COVID-19 cases in 30 Chinese provinces.
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He found that every one degree increase in average temperature resulted in a decrease in daily confirmed coronavirus cases from 36% to 57% when the humidity level was between 67% and 85.5%.
“Environmental factors such as temperature and relative humidity can influence coronavirus transmissions by affecting the survival of the virus in its routes of transmission,” the authors said.
However, the authors noted that there were limitations to the study – the study period only lasted about a month, and the rate of decline in COVID-19 cases could also have been influenced by the interventions of government health.
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