Q&A – Is weather or population a bigger factor for the spread of COVID-19?

Q&A of the Day – Is weather or population a bigger factor for the spread of COVID-19?

Each day I’ll feature a listener question that’s been submitted by one of these methods. 

Email: brianmudd@iheartmedia.com

Twitter: @brianmuddradio

Facebook: Brian Mudd https://www.facebook.com/brian.mudd1

Today’s entry: Hi Brian, I'm not reacting to anything specific that you or anybody else said, but I believe that we should always double-check and triple-check that we are considering all possible variables when analyzing anything.

Here's one I haven't heard anybody talk about... I was happy to hear our governor take a victory lap of Florida vs. New York results, but a little voice in the back of my head kept saying "what about the climate"? Perhaps it's true that the virus only thrives in colder climates and that could be one of the factors here.

If it is true, it could affect the tapering off and resurgence we might see with seasonal changes.

You, being a numbers guy, I thought might be interested to look and see if there are any trends comparing southern states with northern states. In other words, try to correlate the data between the climates and the effects of the virus in various locations. If you find one, it could be predictive of what is to come with seasonal changes.

Bottom Line: Without a vaccine and certain treatment options the impact of weather on COVID-19 has been a topic of conversation from the onset of the pandemic. Until we have them,we’ve had high hopes for heat and humidity coming to the rescue. The question is will it, or to the point of your question, has it already for Florida and other southern states?

Here are the top ten states for the fewest cases adjusted for population (in order): Montana, Hawaii, Alaska, Oregon, West Virginia, Wyoming, Idaho, Vermont, Oklahoma, Maine. Here are the ten worst states for cases adjusted for population: New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Nebraska. There’s a great irony with these two sets of states. In each group you have 

  • Two warm weather states & eight cool/cold weather states

It’s clear that weather alone isn’t the deciding factor. Population density is far more important. The most common trait of the least impacted states is that they’re among the least populous. If population is more important than weather, than Florida’s success in combating the spread of the virus is that much more impressive – given that we’re the third most populous state. When I recently asked our Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams about heat and humidity’s impact on COVID-19, in so many words he said he’s hopeful but it’s unknown. What is known is the impact on viruses which have been around longer than COVID-19. 

In 2014, a study of influenza backed by the National Institutes of Health found the following... 

  • The flu virus was most effective at 41 degrees and began to lose effectiveness at 86 degrees

This supports the idea that heat helps stops the spread of viruses. But then again that’s the traditional flu virus and COVID-19 isn’t your typical virus. As one of the seven coronaviruses, most closely related to MERS and SARS, it’s best to look at what we learned from them. Scientists at the University of Hong Kong found SARS to be more resilient to hotter temperatures than typical viruses. In fact, it took 15 minutes at 132.8 degrees to kill the SARS virus. If COVID-19 were to follow more closely to its cousin, heat is helpful for slowing it down but not even the desert would be enough to stop it.

Based on what we know, population density is far more important than temperature in determining the spread of COVID-19. Given Florida’s large population, this makes Florida’s performance objectively successful to date. 

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