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Yes, studies support possibility of temperature as factor in transmission and spread of Covid-19

Photo Credit: Live Science 5 mins read

Claim: Temperature and enclosed spaces affect the transmission of coronavirus.

Mostly True. Although some literature supports the claim that temperature can affect the reduction or increase in coronavirus transmission, a lot is still yet to be proven in this regard.

Full Text

As the coronavirus began working its way through countries, many myths and theories were spread about the virus. Some of these claimed that eating garlic could kill the virus; that consuming hot peppery soups could prevent the virus, and a host of others. Most of these claims were later found to be false.

A very prominent theory that circulated and had some countries at ease when the pandemic started was that the Covid-19 virus could not survive or spread in a hot or sunny climate.

A tweet by a radio personality seems to have revived the conversation.

“So last year, who ankasa come lie we say covid-19 no go catch Africans cos here hot.”

The post has since generated many comments on the platform.

A video of a former deputy Health Minister, Dr. Okoe Boye during an interview, stating some hypothesis on how temperature can affect the spread and intensity of Covid-19, was shown as evidence to support the claim. 

But does temperature really affect the spread of the Covid-19?

Video Transcript

“There are two main things and remember we are still studying the virus so most of the claims are hypothetical not empirical from established studies. But there are two observations that have been made strongly that facilitates spread and even intensity of disease.

The first one being the temperature, cold climate. That is why in most countries they predicted that they might have a second wave in the winter.”

Verification

The comments on Twitter seemed to give the impression that the video in question was from last year. Although similar claims were made last year, the video showing of Dr Boye is recent.

A longer version of the video showed that the excerpt came from CitiTV’s The Big Issue which aired on January 17th, 2021.

The discussion that brought out Okoe Boye’s statement was in line with the reopening of schools and risks associated with it.

Transcript

Interviewer:

“You made a point about concentration of particles in enclosed spaces. Fortunately, a lot of our schools are not under trees. Perhaps these are one of the instances where we can be happy about schools under trees but fortunately or unfortunately we don’t have instances where we have schools under trees. A lot of the schools, a huge majority are enclosed. What is the government’s plan? What are the measures put in place by the government to ensure that should any of the kids or students have it; I mean be it asymptomatic or not, given that they are in an enclosed space, this will not degenerate, the infection rate will not go up or that person will not infect a lot of their colleges.”

Okoe Boye:

“There are two main things and remember we are still studying the virus so most of the claims are hypothetical not empirical from established studies. But there are two observations that have been made strongly that facilitates spread and even intensity of disease.

The first one being the temperature, cold climate. That is why in most countries they predicted that they might have a second wave in the winter.  The second one is an enclosed, If the structure of your community enclosed type, the rate of transmission is higher. And what do i mean by the closed type? If you go to Europe, most markets, if you want to go and buy, it’s not an open market like Agbogbloshi or makola where… you go to an enclosed space…  Luckily, how many schools”

Two claims were deduced from Dr Boye’s response:

  1. Enclosed spaces promote the spread of Covid-19
  2. Temperature affects spread and intensity of disease

Are there existing hypothetical studies to support Okoe Boye’s claims?

Yes.

A study by  Peng Shi, Yinqiao Dong, Huanchang Yan, Xiaoyang Li, Chenkai Zhao, Wei Liu, Miao He, Shixing Tang and Shuhua Xi titled, The impact of temperature and absolute humidity on the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak – evidence from China, investigated the impact of temperature and absolute humidity on the Covid-19 outbreak in 31 provincial-level regions in mainland China. Data was gathered between January 20th and February 29th, 2020. Findings revealed that the lowest daily incidence of the coronavirus was at -10 °C and highest at 10 °C. COVID-19 incidence changed with temperature as daily incidence decreased when the temperature rose. Also, a modified susceptible-exposed-infectious-recovered (M-SEIR) model confirmed that transmission rate decreased with the increase of temperature, leading to further decrease of infection rate and outbreak scale.

These findings were similar to Mecenas et al’s (2020) study, Effects of temperature and humidity on the spread of COVID-19: A systematic review and Wu et al’s (2020), Effects of temperature and humidity on the daily new cases and new deaths of COVID-19 in 166 countries and many others who also report positive decrease in transmission with increased temperature.

However, the World Health Organization(WHO), has stated firmly that there is currently no conclusive evidence that either weather or climate have a strong impact on transmission of the virus. This is proven in the fact that the disease has been transmitted in all regions of the world, from dry, cold, hot or humid climates.

With regards to enclosed spaces increasing risk of infection, studies also exist to support this.

Bhagat et al in their 2020 study, Effects of ventilation on the indoor spread of COVID-19,  found that existing data indicates that indoor transmission of the virus far exceeds outdoor transmission. This, the study indicates may be due to longer exposure times and the decreased turbulence levels (and therefore dispersion) found indoors. This suggests that indoor or enclosed spaces do have the tendency to increase transmission of the coronavirus. 

This is supported in another study that suggests that it is very critical to prevent overcrowding and to also allow adequate ventilation and filtration of circulating air in buildings to mitigate the transmission of the coronavirus. This suggestion is made in the study, Understanding of Aerosol Transmission of COVID 19 in Indoor Environments, by Barro et al (2020). 

Additionally, respiratory droplets from coughs and sneezes and person-to-person close contact are some of the main modes of transmission identified. This could account for enclosed spaces being sources of infection in some way.

The case of Ghana

Ghana has recorded a relatively high number of Covid-19 cases regardless of the high temperatures experienced here. But has the temperature supported the moderately better record of deaths and confirmed cases in comparison to countries with colder temperatures?

According to endcoronavirus.org, some of the countries that are beating coronavirus are Australia, the Bahamas, Brunei, Djibouti, Iceland among others while Burkina Faso, Chile and Canada are at the other end of the stick.  These countries range from hot to cold climates on both sides of the coin. Canada for instance is currently -11°C while Burkina Faso is at 37°C and yet, both countries are considered countries not doing well in battling the Covid-19 pandemic. Same can be said for Iceland which presently records a temperature of -3°C and Djibouti with its 29°C and yet both are tagged as countries beating the coronavirus.

It is, therefore, clear that there is more to the spread of the virus as rightly stated by the WHO and many other health organisations and studies.

Conclusion

Okoe Boye is not off in his claims regarding temperature and enclosed spaces as the preceding studies suggest. Boye also provided a caveat in his statement that suggests that he may be wrong as the claims he made are based on theoretical studies, making the claim to merit a mostly true  status.

Roselena Ahiable is a Senior Researcher with Dubawa Ghana. Roselena has years of demonstrated work experience in advertising, sales and marketing, having worked with some of the leading brands in Ghana. She has completed a Master of Philosophy programme in Communication Studies at the University of Ghana, Legon, with specialisation in Public Relations and Advertising. She has also received advanced training in print and broadcast journalism. Roselena also holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English and Theatre Arts from the University of Ghana. As a trained journalist with interest in research, Roselena provides the team insight in news and media trend analysis.

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