Infectious disease expert: Weather and COVID-19

Dr. Ruth Berggren and Meteorologist Sarah Spivey discuss how the weather affects the spread of COVID-19

Sarah Spivey chats with Dr. Ruth Berggren, an Infectious Disease Specialist with the Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio, who clears up misconceptions about COVID-19 and the weather.

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As the weather heats up, many people have been wondering if the spread of COVID-19 will slow down -- much like the regular flu season.

Dr. Ruth Berggren, an infectious disease specialist with the Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio, sat down with KSAT Meteorologist Sarah Spivey to answer a few questions about how the weather may or may not influence the spread of COVID-19.

Will warmer weather slow down the virus?

In recent weeks, as temperatures climb to the highest they’ve been all year, coronavirus cases have actually spiked in San Antonio.

“What happens in actuality is that when people are outdoors and it gets really hot, they go back inside into cooler air. So, there’s really been no benefit to us from this hot weather,” Berggren said. “And, in fact, countries where there’s a lot of heat -- like in Africa -- they’re also seeing COVID-19. So, we really can’t expect the weather to help us with the COVID(-19) pandemic. It’s going to be our behaviors that are going to help us.”

Is there a specific temperature that will kill COVID-19?

Yes, however Dr. Berggren said that studies indicate a temperature of 133°F will do the trick. We simply don’t see temperatures that hot in Texas or around the world.

“If the virus were on the surface of a jungle gym -- a metal bar -- out in our heat, it wouldn’t last very long,” Berggren said. “But that’s not how the virus is primarily transmitted. We care about surfaces, but we care more about respiratory droplet transmission. And that’s going to happen when two people are within 6 feet of each other for greater than 15 minutes. [And that’s why] you’re better off if you’re outdoors, not because of the heat, but because of the air circulation.”

What should you keep in mind to avoid getting sick or getting your loved ones sick?

It’s important to remember the “3 P’s” -- prevent, protect, and provide.

  • Prevent: Prevent other people from getting sick by wearing a mask, washing your hands, and observing the 6 foot social distance rule.
  • Protect: Protect yourself and others by strictly limiting your social bubble. If you interact with people outside of your household, it’s recommended to wear a mask.
  • Provide: Provide information if you get a phone call from a contact tracer, who will reach out to you if you’ve been exposed to COVID-19 and may need to quarantine. Tracers will reach out to you from a number that begins with 210-207.

How do mild symptoms of COVID-19 differ from Saharan Dust allergy symptoms?

Every year, typically in the summer months, a plume of dust from the Saharan Desert reaches San Antonio. With the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing, it may be scary to experience irritating effect from the fine dust particles, such as an itchy throat or respiratory issues. However, Dr. Berggren says not to be alarmed.

“COVID(-19) could start with a sore throat and a cough, but the difference is going to be fever. You’re not going to have fever from Saharan dust. You will have fever from COVID(-19),” Berggren said. “Saharan dust maybe doesn’t make you feel great, but it’s not going to make you feel achy and bad all over your whole body.”

Other symptoms of COVID-19 include a loss of sense of smell or taste and shortness of breath.

About the Author:

Sarah Spivey is a San Antonio native who grew up watching KSAT. She has been a proud member of the KSAT Weather Authority Team since 2017. Sarah is a Clark High School and Texas A&M University graduate. She previously worked at KTEN News. When Sarah is not busy forecasting, she enjoys hanging out with her husband and cat, and playing music.