Adherence to health precautions, not climate, the biggest factor driving wintertime COVID-19 outbreaks

Written by
Morgan Kelly
Morgan Kelly, High Meadows Environmental Institute
Feb. 9, 2021

Princeton University researchers reported in Nature Communications that wintertime outbreaks of COVID-19 have been largely driven by people’s adherence to control measures such as mask wearing and social distancing. Climate and population immunity are playing smaller roles during the current pandemic phase of the virus, the researchers found.

The researchers — working in summer 2020 — ran simulations of a wintertime coronavirus outbreak in New York City to identify key factors that would allow the virus to proliferate. They found that relaxing control measures in the summer months led to an outbreak in the winter regardless of climate factors.

Even maintaining rigid control measures through the summer can lead to a wintertime outbreak if climate factors provided enough of a boost to viral transmission, according to the study authors, all of whom are affiliated with the Climate Change and Infectious Disease initiative in Princeton’s High Meadows Environmental Institute (HMEI).

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