- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 11, 2020

Summertime cookouts, beach parties and massive protests against racial injustice are happening outside, giving the coronavirus a chance to drift off with the breeze and tempering fears of a second wave of infections.

But experts warn of a “reverse” seasonal effect as temperatures climb. When it gets too hot, folks will retreat inside, close the windows and crank up the air conditioning, potentially squandering seasonal gains as U.S. infections surpass 2 million and the death toll exceeds 113,000.

Fears that the number of COVID-19 cases is heading up again in the U.S. helped send stocks plummeting Thursday on Wall Street, underscoring how tightly linked the economy and investor confidence are to the health crisis. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped over 1,800 points, or 6.9%, its biggest daily dive in three months, while the S&P 500 plunged 5.7% and the Nasdaq Composite slid 5.3%

A summer spike is a particular worry in places such as Arizona and Texas, which have reported a surge in hospitalizations in recent days, weeks after state officials relaxed stay-at-home rules.

“It’s 100 degrees in Phoenix right now, 95 degrees in Houston, [and] people are being driven indoors more, so you’re having more congregate settings inside, and that could also be contributing to the spread,” former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said Thursday on MSNBC.

There is evidence that the coronavirus doesn’t fare well in natural light, and epidemiologists have been hoping warm weather and higher humidity levels will knock virus droplets to the ground faster, akin to how other viruses behave. Being outdoors also provides the benefit of “unlimited dilution” of the virus with the wind.

But sometimes it’s just too steamy outside. Experts say people should increase ventilation when they head inside, especially if they are gathering with others.

“Open your windows, bring in more fresh outdoor air. In your car, roll down your window. When you’re outside, we get that benefit already,” Joseph Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessment science in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in one of the school’s daily COVID-19 briefings.

The benefits of airflow are why public officials are closing streets to give restaurants more outdoor seating, or cafes are directing customers to their patios.

Inside, scientific studies have shown businesses that open bay doors and opposing windows can sweep away other pollutants, such as diesel exhaust or byproducts from metal-working fluids.

If open windows aren’t an option, the goal with air conditioning systems is to increase airflow from clean sources and to use the best filtration settings.

“Indoors, you’re primarily looking at diluting the virus or any pollutant by adding air, and ideally air from outdoors is better than recirculated,” said Pete Raynor, a professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.

‘Cooling centers’

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an entire web page dedicated to preventing COVID-19 transmission at “cooling centers” that provide relief from another public health threat: extreme heat.

The agency urges centers to put people who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms into separate rooms. Everyone at the centers should maintain physical distancing of 6 feet or more.

The agency says that, if possible, the centers should have high ceilings and use high-efficiency filters in their HVAC systems.

Generally speaking, experts say anyone who is stuck inside should wash their hands frequently and adhere to social distancing. Wearing masks can also help slow the spread.

President Trump’s reelection campaign announced Thursday that it will hold its first rally since March at the BOK Center, an indoor arena, in Tulsa on June 19.

The press announcement did not outline any social distancing measures, but the general admission request for tickets asks attendees to assume the risk of infection.

“By clicking register below, you are acknowledging that an inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present. By attending the rally, you and any guests voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19 and agree not to hold Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.; BOK Center; ASM Global; or any of their affiliates, directors, officers, employees, agents, contractors, or volunteers liable for any illness or injury,” the webpage says.

Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence, who leads the White House coronavirus task force, caused a stir by tweeting a Wednesday photo of himself with a large group of maskless Trump campaign staffers who packed together in an indoor office building. The tweet was later deleted.

“The vice president yesterday was photographed with campaign staffers in a tight space, no social distancing, without anyone wearing a mask,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. “The very least the administration could do is lead by example and often cannot even manage that much.”

Mr. Schumer demanded a briefing on the national COVID-19 situation from key scientists on the White House coronavirus task force, Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci, saying the U.S. needs to refocus on the issue.

“The disease is spiking in a number of states around the country. Arizona officials have warned that its hospitals could be filled by next month,” he said. “Texas has gone three straight days with record numbers of hospitalizations. North Carolina, New Mexico, California, Oregon and several other states are experiencing a resurgence, or peak-levels, of COVID-19.”

Experts fear the lack of social distancing is fueling cases, as business reopenings bring people into closer contact. There have also been massive protests against police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, fueling fears of increased transmission among the densely packed crowds.

Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said even without any spikes over the summer, there will continue to be 800 to 1,000 deaths per day in the U.S. related to COVID-19.

“Over the next three months, we will cross the 200,000 mark,” he told NBC’s “Today” program on Thursday. “Sometime in September, we’re going to cross 200,000, and we still won’t be done.”

He is concerned about upticks in cases in states such as Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Florida.

“I had hoped that the fact that people are spending more time outside, that it’s summer, we would not see such a big increase so fast,” he said. “It’s more concerning than I had hoped we would get at this point.”

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