COVID-19 disruptions could last for months, researcher tells AccuWeather
Experts at the Biocomplexity Institute at University of Virginia are tracking the spread of COVID-19 to help federal officials make public health decisions.
Researchers at the Biocomplexity Institute at the University of Virginia warn that major interruptions to daily life and businesses related to the COVID-19 pandemic could last for several months.
Doctors at the institute like Madhav Marathe, a director and distinguished professor of biocomplexity, have been tracking flu infections and projecting the spread of influenza across the United States all winter -- and they are now monitoring the new coronavirus. The scientists are busy developing computer models to help examine the spread of COVID-19 to inform federal officials.
"Our job is to really provide them scientific basis and leave the decision-making to them," Marathe told AccuWeather National Reporter Bill Wadell.
The data sets are leading researchers to believe disruptions might last longer than originally thought, and that tighter restrictions may be necessary to flatten the curve of transmissions of the COVID-19 disease.
“I think if anybody thinks we’ll be doing this for two weeks and then we’re done ... I don’t think that’s going to work out. We’ll go right back where we started,” Marathe told Waddell. "I strongly believe that all the state governments in the U.S. should actively start building temporary medical facilities. I think it’s centrally important."
One of the things researchers have been investigating is whether warmer and more humid weather could play a factor in helping to combat the spread of COVID-19.
These studies are part of a small but growing body of global scientific findings exploring the new coronavirus and how the weather may influence the escalation of the disease.
A new study released last week found that high temperatures and high relative humidity can “significantly reduce the transmission of COVID-19.” And, specifically, an increase of just 1 degree Celsius and 1% relative humidity increase substantially lowered the transmission of the virus, according to the data analyzed by the researchers.
However, the exact role weather plays in the spread is still being debated, according to Marathe, and not all of the emerging research has been peer-reviewed.
“I think that’s a statistical study and that needs to be verified … there’s not much we can do unless the vaccines come through,” Marathe cautioned.
Earlier this month, Marathe and his colleague sounded the alarm about the threat posed by COVID-19, the illness caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Marathe's colleague, Dr. Bryan Lewis, a professor at the Biocomplexity Institute at the University of Virginia, warned that the virus looked like it could be "the big one."
"This is potentially a very significant event, the Hurricane Sandy of epidemics,” Lewis said at the time, referring to the 2012 superstorm that was blamed for the deaths of at least 159 on the U.S. East Coast. As of March 19, the U.S. death toll stood at least 154, according to statistics from researchers at Johns Hopkins University.
Even if warmer weather does impact the spread in the summer months, Marathe said the virus will likely cause issues again in the fall and winter months later this year.
Other weather elements are also being examined for potential impact around the globe. A recent AccuWeather analysis explored the daily UV Index from seven major cities worldwide from Jan. 1, 2019, through mid-March 2020 compared to the 10-year average of the daily UV Index for those cities. A substantial increase in UV rays has begun and will continue for the next several months.
“If the coronavirus behaves like most other viruses, then as the sun grows stronger day by day as we head towards the summer solstice, the stronger sun and increased hours of sunshine may start to take their toll on the virus, thereby helping to slow its spread, particularly as the sun gets stronger in April and May," AccuWeather Founder and CEO Dr. Joel N. Myers said.
While more research and vaccine tests are being developed, experts say there are ways we can slow the spread right now, including practicing good hygiene and social distancing, which includes limiting gatherings of 10 or more people for healthy people and avoiding all contact with everyone outside the home for high-risk individuals.
Reporting by Bill Waddell.
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