The Greatest Gift to Loved Ones This Covid Winter? Don’t Infect Others
“Our biggest worry is Covid-19 fatigue,” a coronavirus expert says. “People are losing respect for the virus and letting their guard down, which is a bad idea.”
In case you haven’t noticed, the days are getting shorter and, in most parts of the United States, also cooler. Winter will soon descend upon the northern hemisphere along with several vacation-prone and family-centered holidays that may tempt many people to celebrate in ways they have wisely resisted for most of the Covid-19 pandemic.
At the same time, the coronavirus responsible for the pandemic is surging worldwide and throughout this country, where new cases have risen to over 150,000 a day. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said last June that exactly this could happen unless aggressive action was taken to thwart the virus’s spread.
Last month, following widespread failure to take such action, Dr. Fauci predicted that if we don’t now do what we know is needed this fall and winter, we could be facing as many as 400,000 Covid-related deaths by year’s end.
And our annual infectious visitor, the influenza virus, promises to complicate the picture, causing its own surge of debilitating infections that each year claim the lives of tens of thousands of Americans.
For more reasons than most people realize, both flu and coronaviruses have the ability to spread more easily from person to person during the colder, drier days of winter. The risk is not limited to the fact that in colder weather people spend more time indoors potentially exposed to others who may harbor and spread an infectious virus. The risk is also influenced by lower temperatures and relative humidity that can increase the viral load of the air we breathe.
Of course, far more is understood about the behavior of the influenza virus than the novel coronavirus that is now causing such havoc. Rossi A. Hassad, an epidemiologist and statistician at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., reported this month that both viruses “share key transmission characteristics.” Dr. Hassad and other experts say that what is known about the flu virus can inform our understanding of how and why Covid-19 is likely to become even more hazardous in the months ahead and that this knowledge can, in turn, reinforce the advice that everyone adopt readily available measures to thwart it.
Alas, we cannot afford to wait for a safe and effective Covid-19 vaccine. Despite the intense excitement last week over an early report from Pfizer of a very promising experimental vaccine in the research pipeline, it may be six months or longer before this or any vaccine is likely to be widely available to protect most Americans against the potentially devastating infection.
“The fatality rate associated with Covid-19 is at least 10 times higher than from the flu,” Dr. Hassad said in an interview. “And the Covid virus is more efficiently transmitted by both respiratory droplets and aerosols, which are smaller than respiratory droplets.”
In colder, drier air, he explained, respiratory droplets lose water content and become smaller and lighter and thus able to linger in the air for longer periods, creating “a perfect recipe for exposure to a higher viral load” both indoors and out.