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Expert panel discuss COVID-19 in relation to weather

Friday, March 27th 2020, 2:39 pm - As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the world, questions remain as to how far it will spread and how long strict containment measures will remain in place.

Several months may pass before we have a clear view of how COVID-19 will fare in Canada -- but in the meantime, The Weather Network's Chris St. Clair sat down with Mark Gibbas, CEO of Weather Source, Chris Scott, chief meteorologist at The Weather Network, and Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious diseases expert at Trillium Health in Mississauga, Ontario to discuss the pandemic.

Their roundtable discussion has been packaged into a special report called Viral Weather, which is airing on all Weather Network platforms.

The wide-ranging conversation covers several topics, including the impact weather and climate may have on slowing -- or accelerating -- infection rates.


Go HERE for our complete coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic


WHAT MAKES COVID-19 DIFFERENT?

For starters, we don't have a lot of long-term data on the virus. Health care experts are well-versed on how to treat things we know about, like influenza, as well as the common complications that may arise from it.

But now, experts are learning on-the-go about the ways pre-existing health conditions, age, and even gender may influence the way COVID-19 infects a patient.

While weather influences the spread of some diseases and infections, we aren't sure if there are any direct, weather-related impacts on COVID-19.

But Dr. Chakrabarti hints at some positive indirect impacts.

People tend to venture outside more when temperatures warm and that could make social distancing easier, given we aren't confined to our homes, he says.

But past research doesn't indicate warm weather will stop the spread of COVID-19. We're already seeing transmission in warmer climates, like Australia and Malaysia.

While influenza spikes in Canada and the U.S. during colder months, Dr. Chakrabarti says it spreads throughout populations in tropical climates year-round, albeit at a more evenly-dispersed pace.

"So [the flu] is still there, it's just not there as much," he says of tropical regions. This may be due to humidity hindering the spread of infectious droplets, as well as to increased social distancing.

"I will say, we have seen [COVID-19] in warmer climates such as Africa and parts of Asia, and it does look like in a lot of those places it hasn't taken off as we have seen in Italy and the U.S."

"But we are still gathering all the data. We aren't going to have a good answer until we've passed the outbreak and are looking back."


Go HERE for our complete coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic


WATCH BELOW: VIRAL WEATHER - COULD WEATHER AFFECT COVID-19?

Time will tell what the future holds for the spread of COVID-19 in Canada, but forecasters already have an understanding of how the weather will play out over the next few months.

Chris Scott says his team is forecasting above-normal temperatures for much of Canada this summer.

"But this is a new virus," he adds.

"We don't want to give people the impression that if [temperatures] are above or below normal, [that's] somehow going to make a difference. But let's hope that warmer weather does change the transmission pattern of the virus."

If strict lockdown measures are still in place when the weather warms, Dr. Chakrabarti says going outside should be safe, provided people continue to practice social distancing.

PROVEN WAYS TO STOP OR SLOW THE SPREAD OF COVID-19

  • Wash your hands frequently for at least twenty seconds.
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • Stay home if you are feeling unwell.
  • Practice social distancing until authorities say it is safe to stop.

"It's not going to last forever," Dr. Chakrabarti says, "but its important to continue this for the time being until we see what results we will get."

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