UVA Health doctors, researchers explain why winter will be a challenge in the COVID-19 fight

With the weather beginning to get chillier, UVA Health researchers say a spike in cases is likely on the way, for a variety of reasons.
Updated: Oct. 20, 2020 at 6:05 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Since the beginning of the pandemic, doctors have been warning that a COVID-19 surge was probable this winter. With the weather beginning to get chillier, University of Virginia Health researchers say a spike in cases is likely on the way, as multiple factors make respiratory illnesses even more dangerous in cold weather.

“Winter is a bad time for all respiratory transmitted infections,” UVA Health Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. William Petri explained.

As the commonwealth and the country continue to battle coronavirus, doctors and experts continue to predict that winter will bring more COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. They say that winter could be a turning point in the pandemic.

“A lot of the other respiratory viruses also peak in the winter, winter time, and the question why that is, no one really knows for sure," Dr. Petri said. "The most more likely explanations are, number one, that we’re closer together because we’re indoors is, so there’s more opportunity for person-to-person transmission. There’s also a thought that the lower humidity promotes transmission.”

The UVA Biocomplexity Institute and the model it creates for the Virginia Department of Health agrees. While the worst case of the scenarios the model predicted for fall did not come to pass, it says winter will bring more cases.

“We look at states like Wisconsin, and other states where it’s been surging now for several weeks...and it’s about a 30% increase in transmission,” UVA Computational Epidemiologist Bryan Lewis explained. "In terms of flattening the curve, it worked, we saved a lot of lives. It would have been nice to have gotten it down to lower levels of prevalence heading into the winter, so that it would have taken us a few more weeks to get to where we are now.”

There is light at the end of the tunnel: Dr. Petri says a vaccine should emerge by the new year and full immunization should be underway by the spring.

“We’re not going to have to do these terribly restricted things forever,” Petri said. "We’re talking about kind of just like a marathon. We’re in the last like six months on here of this problem.”

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