Winter and COVID-19: What you need to know
As winter approaches, many are concerned about an increased spread of the COVID-19 virus. Does the cold weather put us more at risk? Infectious disease physician Divya Ahuja, MD, explained what you need to know.
How does cold weather impact COVID-19?
Dr. Ahuja said cold, dry air and the absence of UV light has an impact on COVID-19.
“It’s been shown that in cold, dry environments the virus can last longer on surfaces, but the difference is probably less than 5%. The biggest difference that can impact the virus transmission is our own social behavior. We can blame the weather, we can blame all sorts of things, but the one thing that is very much within our control is our behavior. How we approach masking and social distancing in the community, how we approach testing and how we approach holiday gatherings,” he said.
When it’s cold outside, we tend to want to gather indoors, making it easier for respiratory illnesses such as the flu and COVID-19 to spread. Dr. Ahuja said this is why getting a flu shot should be a priority. It reduces your likelihood of getting the flu and possibly being hospitalized.
“Also consider the number of days lost from work or school. You might just have the flu, but until you are cleared for COVID, your employer is going to tell you to stay at home,” he said. There are tests that can test for both COVID and influenza, but many facilities are offering separate tests.
Should I get tested regularly?
Dr. Ahuja said getting regular COVID-19 tests is helpful, especially before traveling or visiting family. “We are going to uncover a lot of asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic people, especially in the younger age group. And by reducing unnecessary travel and gatherings, we could actually reduce transmission to others within our communities and across state lines, as well as reduce transmission to older family members or those with medical conditions such as heart disease, chronic kidney disease, etc.”
However, testing does not take the place of our own behavior. “You still have to be cautious because the test is not perfect. Also, if you’re negative today, that doesn’t mean you’ll be negative tomorrow,” he said.
Dr. Ahuja said it’s critical to continue taking these precautions:
- Wear a mask
- Social distance
- Limit gatherings to fewer than 10 people
I’m tired of taking precautions. Can’t we just let the virus run its course?
Even though mostly older people get seriously ill or die from the virus, Dr. Ahuja said we all are at risk. “COVID fatigue is understandable, but this is not the time for it. This winter we might be in for a very difficult period with increased hospitalizations and economic hardship, so for ourselves, our loved ones and our communities, this is the time to be extra cautious and sensible and follow public health recommendations,” he said. “We need to have a sense of responsibility for one another.”
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