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Warmer temperatures may lessen the spread of COVID-19, study finds

However, experts say it’s still important for safety measures to stay in place

Photo (c) urbazon - Getty Images
Several studies have explored how warmer and colder temperatures can affect the spread of COVID-19. Now, researchers from Imperial College London found that warmer weather may lead to fewer cases of COVID-19

But just because the summer months are associated with a decline in cases, that doesn’t mean safety precautions should be ignored; to ensure that consumers stay safe and healthy amidst the warmer temperatures, the researchers recommend adhering to all safety guidelines. 

“Our results show that temperature changes have a much smaller effect on transmission than policy interventions, so while people remain unvaccinated, governments mustn’t drop policies like lockdowns and social distancing just because a seasonal change means the weather is warming up,” said researcher Dr. Tom Smith. “However, our work also suggests that lower autumn and winter temperatures may lead to the virus spreading more easily in the absence of policy interventions or behavioural changes.” 

What role does temperature play?

The researchers analyzed the COVID-19 transmission rate across the country to determine how different geographic regions, temperatures, and population densities played a role in infection rates. Because policy measures were comparable nationwide for the majority of the pandemic, and there is a wide variety of temperatures across the country, the team was able to determine the precise role that temperature played in the spread of COVID-19. 

The results showed that regions with colder temperatures fared worse in terms of COVID-19 transmission. The opposite was also true; as temperatures increased, transmission rates went down. 

“We found evidence that, in the early phases of the pandemic, places with colder temperatures were associated with higher SARS-CoV-2 transmission intensities,” said researcher Dr. Ilaria Dorigatti. “However, the effect of climatic seasonality on SARS-CoV-2 transmission is weaker than the effect of population density and in turn, of policy interventions.” 

Continue to follow safety measures

Safety protocols, such as social distancing and lockdown orders, made the biggest difference in terms of slowing the spread of COVID-19 -- particularly in areas with high population density. Regions that were the most crowded were also linked with the highest infection rates. 

As the summer gets underway, the researchers encourage consumers to continue to abide by COVID-19 safety precautions, as that remains one of the best defenses against the virus. 

“While temperature and population density do influence SARS-CoV-2 transmission, our findings reconfirm that the most important drivers are public policy and individual behavior,” said researcher Dr. Will Pearse. “For example, during lockdowns, there was no meaningful signature of temperature influencing transmission. 

“This means, for example, that warmer regions should not expect to ease mobility restrictions before colder regions,” he continued. “This is especially true as warmer regions tend to have higher population densities -- for example, the population in Florida is more densely packed than in Minnesota.” 

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