This Is What's Making COVID Worse In The Summer, Scientist Says
Rising temperatures are making the pandemic even more dangerous. Here's why.
As lockdown orders ended in most states in the late spring, progress made to curb coronavirus spread was undone. Daily case numbers have been increasing steadily since late June in most parts of the country. But people crowding into bars and hosting backyard barbecues isn't all we need to worry about regarding COVID this summer. One scientist says that the summer will bring something else that will likely make COVID even worse: heat waves.
"As communities throughout the United States face surges in COVID-19 infections, more intense heat is creating additional public health challenges, with sweltering conditions complicating efforts to contain the virus and leading to a cascade of difficult choices," Ilissa Ocko, PhD, a climate scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), wrote in a post for the organization.
Record heat waves have already hit the U.S. this year. Both Phoenix, Arizona, and Borger, Texas, reached record highs of 116 degrees Fahrenheit on July 12 and July 11, respectively, according to The Weather Channel. And a heat dome is expected to hit most of the country this weekend, estimated to cause 90 percent of the population to experience temperatures higher than 90 degrees. According to Ocko, these heat waves will bring about a myriad of problems related to the current pandemic.
"Up to a quarter of all American households don't have access to air conditioning, and they are often the poor and the elderly, for whom coronavirus poses the greatest risk," she wrote. "Moving them to crowded cooling centers—like public libraries, community centers and senior centers—increases the likelihood of exposing and possibly killing those most vulnerable to the disease."
The 25 million Americans with asthma might also experience a hard summer with the pandemic and heat waves, as they're already at a probable increased risk for severe illness from the coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC). Ocko says that heat and humidity increase common asthma triggers such as mold growth and seasonal pollen.
But that's not all. This is especially dangerous combined with the increase in ozone pollution that occurs during heat waves. Ozone pollution causes damage to everything from crops to humans lungs—making it a problem for all Americans, not just those already vulnerable with asthma.
"Ozone is bad for all people's health, triggering problems including chest pain and coughing," Ocko explains. "It can also harm lung tissue and reduce lung function, which is especially worrisome amid the threat of COVID-19, which itself can cause serious lung damage."
Early hopes that hot weather would kill off the coronavirus have proven to be unfounded. A study published on June 1 in the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal found that the infection rate only slightly improves with higher temperatures, and only up to 52 degrees Fahrenheit. Any higher yields no additional benefit, and that threshold has already been reached in most of the country.
As for what's causing the intense heat waves we're experiencing, Ocko says that it is climate change, which is "making heat waves longer, hotter and more frequent."
"This is part of a long-term upward trend in global temperatures caused by climate pollution. Over the last 60 years, each decade has been decisively warmer than the previous one," she explains. "The number of deadly heat waves in 50 major cities across the U.S. has increased dramatically from an average of two heat waves per year during the 1960s, to more than six per year during the 2010s."
According to Ocko, the country has the opportunity to "tackle both health threats," however. While rebuilding the economy that has been damaged due to the pandemic, Ocko says the U.S. "can rebuild better by investing in clean energy to create more jobs and less pollution." And for more on hot weather dangers, Don't Mistake This Common Summer Illness for Coronavirus, Experts Warn.