ESSIC Scientists Find Link Between Climate and COVID-19

There might be a link between climate and the spread of COVID-19, finds a study co-authored by ESSIC Director Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm, Assistant Research Scientist Augustin Vintzileos, and collaborators from The Institute of Human Virology (IHV) at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and Shiraz University of Medical Sciences in Iran.


In the study published last month, the authors found that significant community spread of coronavirus in regions often occurs along a narrow east and west pattern, roughly along the 30-50° N” zone.  This area encompasses South Korea, Japan, Iran, Northern Italy, the Northwestern United States, Spain, and France, all locations that have struggled with the disease.


These locations have similar average temperature, humidity, weather patterns, and latitude profiles.  The locations are also similar in that the timing of the outbreak coincides with a nadir (final low point) in the yearly temperature cycle.  New outbreaks have occurred during prolonged time at these temperatures, which could point to a link between outbreaks and climate conditions present in the 30-50° N” zone.


“Our hypothesis is that the virus will proliferate in certain areas where climate conditions are favorable to the virus,” says Vintzileos.


Vintzileos is an ESSIC scientist that works primarily on understanding the physics and predictability of climate variations and trends.  Last year, he developed a website to forecast, monitor, and archive global extreme heat events.


If the team’s hypothesis is correct, it may be possible to predict the regions at higher risk of significant community spread through weather modeling.  This could allow for a more concentrated public effort  towards containment.


Areas without significant spread also point to a link between the virus and climate.  COVID-19 has failed to spread significantly to areas immediately north and south of China.  The number of patients and deaths in Southeast Asia is much less compared to the aforementioned temperate regions.  Even colder areas in northern latitudes have been relatively free of COVID-19, pointing to a potential minimum range for the temperature.


Many infectious diseases demonstrate seasonal patterns.  SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, and influenza thrive in the winter and tend to peter off in the warmer, more humid months.  It’s a possibility COVID-19 could follow suit, the research team says.


But this doesn’t mean the summertime will be the end of COVID-19.


“In laboratory conditions, people have seen sensitivity of viruses linked to humidity and temperature,” comments Vintzileos, “In the real world, outside the lab, there are many more things to take in account: population density, grouping of people.  There are many other variables that can overcome the effects of temperature and humidity.”


The researchers are now working with a team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to see if their hypothesis can be validated in the United States.  Using data on the state and county level, the group will look at the areas of highest risk.


“We’re exploring the possibility of defining favorable conditions for the spread, and then we can try to predict those conditions,” says Vintzileos.


Currently, Vintzileos is especially concerned with how long these favorable conditions have to persist before having an impact.


“If we end up being right that there are temperature and humidity requirements for the virus – that is, the virus does better in certain conditions – then that information could be used in terms of predicting at least in the temperate areas [of the world] when this problem could resurface or which places would be more at risk,” Mohammad M. Sajadi, the paper’s first author, told Accuweather.


Right now, Vintzileos stresses that the most crucial information for the public to consider is what’s coming from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.


“The most important thing individuals can do is listen to what the CDC is saying, to their directives, to wear masks, to stay at home,” he says.


To access the article, click here: “Temperature, Humidity and Latitude Analysis to Predict Potential Spread and Seasonality for COVID-19”.