As the days grow shorter, the sun goes down earlier and the weather gets colder, new cases of COVID-19 are at an alarmingly high level. We are currently seeing more cases than at any point in 2020. We know that COVID-19 and other similar viruses will have an easier time transmitting from person to person during the winter months.
To learn more, we spoke with Joseph Gastaldo,MD, OhioHealth’s system medical director of infectious disease, about exactly how the winter months create the ideal conditions for COVID-19 to spread. Here’s what we learned and what we want you to know:
Warmer Temperatures Helped Us
Earlier this year, at the onset of COVID-19, we took the necessary measures to slow down the spread. People wore their masks in public, took precautions at the grocery store, and stayed home as much as possible. During the summer, people found new ways to socialize – gathering in small groups outside, where the airflow and distance made it safer for everyone. They took advantage of the weather by going on walks or runs, possibly even working remotely outside and enjoying the fresh air. Businesses reopened after closing their doors, and restaurants made accommodations to seat customers outside at a distance. Even with these efforts to slow the spread, we experienced two significant spikes in the spread of COVID-19 – one during the spring, followed by another in the late summer months.
Cold Weather Warning
As the weather turns colder and the holidays arrive, people are beginning to let their guard down. Sports-related get togethers, small gatherings of multiple households, events like weddings and funerals, and a return to indoor dining and nightlife have contributed to our most recent and severe spike in the spread of COVID-19. This is because of the differences in distance and airflow when gathering inside compared to outdoors. People can no longer comfortably take advantage of what worked safely earlier this year as the temperatures drop.
Moving Inside Increases Risk
Another reason for this increased spread is that small gatherings between different households are now taking place indoors, often in someone’s home. When we bring members of other households into our own homes, we might not think about using the mitigation strategies we use when out in public, such as distancing and wearing masks. A small gathering may seem safe, but the number of individuals and the number of other households you interact with increases your risk. As we know, people can spread COVID-19 while displaying little to no symptoms. And one simple test isn’t enough to “clear” you to gather. You could have contracted COVID-19 recently, and symptoms and a positive test result may not present themselves until days later.
The Fatigue is Real
We know you’re tired. Everyone is experiencing “COVID fatigue.” But for the sake of yourself, your friends and loved ones, and for the sake of our frontline workers in healthcare and beyond, we need you to be smart and safe now more than ever. Anything you can do to stay safe in public and limit your interactions with other households will limit the spread of COVID-19 and protect you and the ones you care about. It will also ease the burden on our frontline workers, who have been running a marathon since March.
Think twice about that small get together or that holiday gathering with loved ones who might experience severe illness from becoming infected. If you’re going to be indoors this winter with members of another household, do what you’d do in public – stay six feet or more apart, wear your masks, and create better airflow. Gathering outside can still be possible. If you can, use a fire pit or a heater, but keep your distance and wear your mask.
Remember, this isn’t forever. Brighter (and warmer) days are ahead. We’re making progress in caring for patients with COVID-19, and vaccines are on their way to those who need them most. But right now, we need you to be courageous for your friends, your loved ones, and our frontline workers, who are all just as tired as you. Follow the recommendations of our healthcare professionals, and above all else, stay safe.
We promise to do everything we can to slow the spread of COVID-19. Will you?
Watch our interview with Dr. Gastaldo to learn more about how COVID-19 will spread more throughout the winter.