Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said in an interview Thursday that there is a precedent with other infections like influenza. The expectation is, “when the virus gets warmer that the virus goes down in its ability to replicate, to spread.”
In other infections and “common, more benign coronaviruses,” Fauci said that a virus “doesn’t like warm, moist weather as much as it likes cold, dry weather.”
“But having said that, one should not assume that we are going to be rescued by a change in the weather,” Fauci said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “You must assume that the virus will continue to do its thing. If we get some help from the weather, so be it, fine. But I don’t think we need to assume that.”
Fauci reiterated to “Good Morning America” that people should continue practicing social distancing and regularly wash their hands as people begin to head back to work and larger gatherings.
His comments came days after a panel convened by the National Academies of Sciences told the White House that there are still uncertainties if COVID-19 can spread as easily in warm weather as it does in cold weather.
“There is some evidence to suggest that [coronavirus] may transmit less efficiently in environments with higher ambient temperature and humidity; however, given the lack of host immunity globally, this reduction in transmission efficiency may not lead to a significant reduction in disease spread without the concomitant adoption of major public health interventions,” according to the letter sent to the White House on Tuesday.
The report is known as a “rapid expert consultation” and was published by nearly a dozen members of the Academies’ Standing Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and 21st Century Health Threats. Those in the report noted that the role weather plays with COVID-19 should be “interpreted with caution” due to the contact of limited time during which “natural experiments have taken place in different locations”
The report also noted that since countries currently in “summer climates” such as Australia and Iran are experiencing “rapid” virus spread, a decrease in cases due to warmer weather “should not be assumed.”
“Given the lack of immunity to [coronavirus] across the world, if there is an effect of temperature and humidity on transmission, it may not be as apparent as with other respiratory viruses for which there is at least some preexisting partial immunity,” the report said.
Health experts have previously said there is a chance that coronavirus cases could dwindle as the weather warms — but it’s not yet totally clear if spring and summer will bring an end to the outbreak.
Dr. William Schaffner, the medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, told Fox News last month if COVID-19 behaves like other respiratory viruses it “could abate,” but it still is too early to know.
“The new coronavirus is a respiratory virus, and we know respiratory viruses are often seasonal, but not always. For example, influenza (flu) tends to be seasonal in the U.S., but in other parts of the world, it exists year-round. Scientists don’t fully understand why even though we have been studying [the] flu for many years,” he said. “The novel coronavirus was just discovered in humans in December. It is too early to know for certain what the impact of warmer weather will be.”
There are at least four pre-existing coronaviruses that are seasonal — but why exactly remains a mystery. For instance, the 2002-2003 outbreak of SARS, which claimed nearly 800 lives at the time, ended in the summer — but a 2004 report on the seasonality of SARS did not establish a clear reason for why.
“Our understanding of the forces driving seasonal disappearance and recurrence of infectious diseases remains fragmentary, thus limiting any predictions about whether, or when, SARS will recur,” the authors wrote at the time. “It is true that most established respiratory pathogens of human beings recur in wintertime, but a new appreciation for the high burden of disease in tropical areas reinforces questions about explanations resting solely on cold air or low humidity.”
As of Thursday, there are 432,438 cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., with at least 14,808 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Fox News’ Madeline Farber contributed to this report.