The Pandemic Could Be Worse in the Winter of 2020-21 - The Atlantic


Here in Southern California, we are experiencing a rather mild summer. We have had only one week of 100+ weather. Climate change does not necessarily mean warming. What we can expect is wider and more extreme changes in weather.

It is not too early to think about the coming fall and winter while hiking, camping, sailing, surfing, biking, or whatever your outdoor sport may be.  

It is not hard to distance and avoid closed spaces in spring, summer, and fall.  Covid-19 will necessitate some modifications in lifestyle.  Many Southern Californians categorize cold weather when the temperature gets below 60 degrees, and there is a mist or fog.  The lack of sunshine causes some Californians to shelter in place. (ie, inside)

Throughout the pandemic, one lodestar of public-health advice has come down to three words: Do things outside. For nearly five months now, the outdoors has served as a vital social release valve—a space where people can still eat, drink, relax, exercise, and worship together in relative safety.

Later this year, that precious space will become far less welcoming in much of the U.S. “What do you do when nobody wants to go to the beach on some cold November day?” Andrew Noymer, a public-health professor at UC Irvine, said to me. “People are going to want to go to bowling alleys and whatnot, and that’s a recipe for disaster, honestly—particularly if they don't want to wear masks.”

People will have to get used to wearing a mask. If you insist on going into closed spaces, wear a mask, and practice distancing. Take sanitizer with you, wash, wash,  wash, and don't be timid about cleaning your space. Think positive and use it as a fashion statement, with colors, artwork, and statements. Humorous captions bring smiles. Emoji may become the next think in masks.  LEDs and Gif's may be the next rage. Think positive, do not attach political ambition with your facial disguises.  We are in a divisive time in America.  Don't make it worse.  Your mask is not going to change an election.  In fact, by November the election will be over.

In recent interviews with Noymer and other experts, I caught glimpses of the winter to come, and what I saw was bleak, even compared with what Americans have already experienced. The winter will be worse—for the quality of daily life in America and, possibly, for the course of the pandemic itself.

“There really is no easy way to socialize during late fall [and] winter in large parts of the country if you're not doing it outside,”  


There are ways to extend the outdoor time by adopting cold-weather gear. People in Northern climates do it all the time. Wearing layered clothing, parkas and slacks designed for colder climates.  Minnesotan's go ice fishing, wearing ear protection and gloves make outdoor sports and activities doable. They do not give up outdoor athletics, adopting cross country skiing, outdoor skating. Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told me. “Could I have people over my house for two hours on a Sunday morning in December? Barring really good testing, probably not.”

That’s because the risk of spreading the coronavirus is heightened in enclosed spaces. Outdoors, there is enough air for the virus to be “rapidly diluted,” as well as the helpful “virus-killing action of sunlight,” explains Linsey Marr, an engineering professor at Virginia Tech. Indoors, she told me, “the virus can build up” and be more easily inhaled, and “if space is heated, it can lead to dry air,” which is more hospitable to the virus.

The experts I consulted were very concerned about the risks of indoor gatherings, but mentioned several measures that could make them safer if people decide to have them anyway: stay at least six feet apart, wear a mask, wipe down frequently touched surfaces, meet in a building with sufficient filters in its ventilation system, use a portable air purifier and a humidifier, and stay clear of crowded rooms. (If all of that sounds onerous, it’s because spending time indoors with people you don’t live with is really risky—and better avoided if you can help it.)

Experts have emphasized sanitizing, distancing, and avoiding indoor crowds.  However, they have not addressed other aspects of prevention.  Early prevention emphasized the prevention of infection by masking.

Nothing much was said about aerosolizing the virus.  Improving ventilation is a means of dilution, and HEPA filtering can reduce viral exposure.  Opening a window or increasing room airflow

There is a big dispute in the scientific community, however, about both the size and the behavior of these particles, and the resolution of that question would change many recommendations about staying safe. Many scientists believe that the virus is emitted from our mouths also in much smaller particles, which are infectious but also tiny enough that they can remain suspended in the air, float around, be pushed by air currents, and accumulate in enclosed spaces—because of their small size, they are not as subject to gravity’s downward pull. Don Milton, a medical doctor and an environmental-health professor at the University of Maryland compares larger droplets “to the spray from a Windex dispenser” and the smaller, airborne particles (aerosols) “to the mist from an ultrasonic humidifier.” Clearly, it’s enough to merely step back—distance—to avoid the former, but distancing alone would not be enough to avoid breathing in the latter.

The disagreement got heated enough that earlier this month, hundreds of scientists around the world signed a letter, pleading with the WHO to acknowledge these smaller particles as an extra mode of transmission and to update its guidelines accordingly. Some experts I spoke with told me that they had been trying to convince the WHO to take the possibility of airborne transmission since March and that the open letter was borne out of frustration about lack of progress. Signatories who study aerosols—the smaller, floating particles—including professor Linsey Marr of Virginia Tech and Jimenez, told me that they don’t disagree with the idea that transmission at close range represents the most risk, as per the WHO and CDC guidelines. But they disagree that the dominance of close-contact transmission implies that ballistic trajectories or larger respiratory droplets are the overwhelming modes of transmission. In their view, even some portion of that close-contact transmission is likely due to aerosols, and many experts told me that they think even particles bigger than the WHO’s definition of respiratory droplets (larger than 5-10 microns in diameter) can float for a bit. In response, the WHO published a scientific brief on July 9 acknowledging the possibility of airborne transmission but still concluding that COVID-19 is “primarily transmitted” between people through respiratory droplets and touching and that the  question needs “further study.”

Anyone wanting to learn more about airborne disease must read the article in the Atlantic Magazine

Now is the time to give individual thought to the coming winter season.  Remember winter clothing goes on the shelves in August and September.  Preparation may give you a more enjoyable winter.