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What can the weather tell us about how coronavirus spreads in America? Researchers are investigating

Researchers want to know if temperature, humidity and other weather factors can impact the spread of COVID-19.

The researchers who published an initial analysis in early March regarding the effect of temperature, humidity and latitude on the ability to predict the potential spread and seasonality of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, are now working with a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to advance their research.

The team's particular focus is to see if its hypothesis can be validated in the United States, "which has vastly different climatological areas within the continental U.S.," Mohammad Sajadi, one of the initial study's authors and an associate professor of medicine at the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, told AccuWeather.

"We are going to be [collecting data] state by state - even county by county," Sajadi said. "We're interested in looking at the areas of highest risk." The U.S. has been the country hardest-hit by the pandemic with more than half of a million infected and more than 25,000 fatalities blamed on the illness, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.

The team's first step is to use the data it collects to "refine our definition of what are meteorologically favorable atmospheric conditions for the virus," Augustin Vintzileos told AccuWeather. He also was an author on the first study and is an assistant research scientist at the Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center at the University of Maryland.

"The big research question we are asking right now is: How long should these favorable conditions persist in order to have an impact?" he said.

"If we end up being right that there are temperature and humidity requirements for the virus - that is, the virus does better in certain conditions - then that information could be used in terms of predicting at least in the temperate areas [of the world] when this problem could resurface or which places would be more at risk," Sajadi said.

In their initial research published March 5, a week before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the crisis a pandemic, the authors of the study wrote that COVID-19 "has established significant community spread in cities and regions only along a narrow east-west distribution roughly along the 30-50 North latitude corridor at consistently similar weather patterns (5-11 degrees C [41 to 51 F] and 47-79 percent humidity)."

"Notably, during the same time, COVID-19 failed to spread significantly to countries immediately south of China," the paper notes. "The number of patients and reported deaths in Southeast Asia is much less when compared to more temperate regions noted ... The association between temperature in the cities affected with COVID-19 deserves special attention."

Last week, a panel from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine sent a report to the White House on how weather and seasonality may affect the spread of SARS-CoV-2. The report examined an array of coronavirus-related studies worldwide.

The impact of higher temperatures and high humidity on the spread of COVID-19 was among the research studied and the chair of the panel, Dr. Harvey Fineberg, told AccuWeather, "In the end, I think it's inconclusive scientifically."

One result regarding temperature and humidity, however, stood out for Dr. Fineberg.

"It's pretty clear that when you look at this virus in the laboratory, if you raise the temperature and you raise the humidity, the virus does not do as well," he told AccuWeather. "It does not replicate as well. So, the virus is subject to success under different conditions of temperature and humidity."

Sajadi and Vintzileos stress that "the climate is one factor - and there are many, many different factors that are important and certain situations may even be more important," Sajadi said. Some of those factors include population density, travel, air pollution, and public health intervention efforts such as isolation and social distancing.

"What our research is highlighting is that we should also consider temperature and humidity in the modeling as we think about the spread of this disease," Sajadi said.