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CDC is hopeful weather will suppress coronavirus, others unsure of weather's role

A CDC official said that it would be "premature" to assume warmer weather will inhibit the coronavirus.
Credit: AP
Passengers arriving on a China Southern Airlines flight from Changsha in China are screened for the new type of coronavirus, whose symptoms are similar to the cold or flu and many other illnesses, upon their arrival at the Jomo Kenyatta international airport in Nairobi, Kenya

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) on Thursday confirmed the 15th case of novel coronavirus in the United States after a Chinese evacuee was flown to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. The 14th U.S. case of COVID-19, the official name for the strain of novel coronavirus that has infected tens of thousands mostly in China, was confirmed on Wednesday night.

The death toll for the virus reached more than 1,300 total fatalities as of Thursday morning, the vast majority of which have occurred in mainland China.

While the world has continued to hope that the spread of the virus will dwindle with increased temperatures in the spring, Nancy Messonnier, the director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, cautioned that it would be "premature" to assume warmer weather will inhibit the virus.

Her remarks came days after President Donald Trump, at a rally in New Hampshire, declared that the coronavirus could "miraculously" go away "once the weather warms up."

"I think I would caution overinterpreting that hypothesis," Messonnier said during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. "Influenza has a season... So, if this behaves similarly, it may be that as we head towards summer and, I guess, spring and summer, the cases would go down, but this is a new disease. We haven't even been through six weeks of it, much less a year, and so I certainly would, I mean, I'm happy to hope that it goes down as the weather warms up, but I think it's premature to assume that, and we're certainly not using that to sit back and expect it to go away."

John Nicholls, a pathology professor at the University of Hong Kong, told financial investors on a conference call last week that he expected the virus to "burn itself out" with increased temperatures. He predicted the threat could subside by May, according to a transcript of the call that was leaked online.

But when asked by AccuWeather for further analysis, Nicholls cautioned going against the views of the CDC.

"So the question is: Will this virus behave the same as the other coronaviruses?" Nicholls said in an email to AccuWeather. "It basically has a similar structure to the other coronaviruses."

Nicholls said COVID-19 features "the same receptor as NL63," a strain of the virus discovered about 16 years ago. "And thus my hypothesis was that when summer came there should be a decrease, but I am not going against the views of the CDC."

According to Nicholls, NL63 and COVID-19 share the same receptor and therefore can be expected to behave similarly in the respiratory tract. Human coronavirus NL63 is a common form of the virus. Nicholls likened COVID-19 to a severe form of the common cold.

When asked if the virus could experience a resurgence with the return of cold weather next fall, Nicholls didn't offer a response.

Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician and a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, explained to NPR that not every coronavirus follows the same pattern. However, he hypothesized that the spread of the outbreak would be impacted by the change of season.

"It doesn't have that seasonality because it's really an animal-to-human virus and not something that that you see causing disease in a seasonal pattern," Adalja said. "It really is behaving like a common cold-causing coronavirus ... I do think seasonality will play a role. As this outbreak unfolds and we approach spring and summer, I do think we will see some tapering off of cases."

Citing studies that were conducted around the SARS outbreak from 2003 and previous years of coronavirus behavior, Nicholls said that if "history was any guide, then we could expect that this virus would no longer be as much of a threat as it is now in the summer."

Nicholls is not the only expert predicting that the spread of the virus will begin fading with the arrival of spring. Zhong Nanshan, an epidemiologist and senior medical adviser to the Chinese government, this week told Reuters that he believes the spread of COVID-19 will begin to wane in April.

Zhong, however, didn't say he was hinging his prediction on weather factors. Instead, Reuters reported, he based his prediction on mathematical modeling and government action. The 83-year-old doctor was a key player in reigning in the SARS outbreak of 2003 and said a major cause for concern is what's unknown about COVID-19.

"We don't know why it's so contagious, so that's a big problem," he said.