The homebound and virus-wary across the Northern Hemisphere, from President Trump to cooped-up schoolchildren, have clung to the possibility that the coronavirus pandemic will fade in hot weather, as some viral diseases do.
But the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, in a public report sent to the White House, has said, in effect: Don’t get your hopes up. After reviewing a variety of research reports, a panel concluded that the studies, of varying quality of evidence, simply did not offer a clear forecast of what would happen to the spread of the novel coronavirus in the summer. It may not diminish significantly.
The report, sent to Kelvin Droegemeier, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House and acting director of the National Science Foundation, was a brief nine-page communication known as a rapid expert consultation. It was signed by Dr. David Relman of Stanford University, one of the members of the Standing Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and 21st Century Health Threats at the National Academies, independent agencies that advise the government and the public.
It cited a small number of well-controlled laboratory studies that show that high temperature and humidity can diminish the ability of the novel coronavirus to survive in the environment. But the report noted the studies had limitations that made them less than conclusive.
It also noted that although some reports showed pandemic growth rates peaking in colder conditions, those studies were short and limited. A preliminary finding in one such study, by scientists at M.I.T., found fewer cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in warmer climates, but arrived at no definitive conclusion.
The report sent to the White House stated: “Given that countries currently in ‘summer’ climates, such as Australia and Iran, are experiencing rapid virus spread, a decrease in cases with increases in humidity and temperature elsewhere should not be assumed.”
It also looked to the history of flu pandemics. “There have been 10 influenza pandemics in the past 250-plus years — two started in the Northern Hemisphere winter, three in the spring, two in the summer and three in the fall,” the report said. “All had a peak second wave approximately six months after emergence of the virus in the human population, regardless of when the initial introduction occurred.”
On March 16, President Trump said the virus might “wash” through in warmer weather.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, has expressed different opinions about the effect of summer on the virus, some more optimistic than others. In a live-streamed interview on Wednesday, Dr. Howard Bauchner, the editor in chief of The Journal of the American Medical Association, asked Dr. Fauci about the fall, which Dr. Fauci said would be very challenging, after a period this summer when “it’s almost certainly going to go down a bit.”
On March 26, however, in a conversation on Instagram with Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, Dr. Fauci said that although it wasn’t unreasonable to assume the summer weather could diminish the spread, “you don’t want to count on it.”
Knvul Sheikh contributed reporting.
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