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Environment influences SARS-CoV-2 transmission in the absence of non-pharmaceutical interventions

By Thomas P Smith, Seth Flaxman, Amanda S Gallinat, Sylvia P. Kinosian, Michael Stemkovski, H Juliette T Unwin, Oliver John Watson, Charles Whittaker, Lorenzo Cattarino, Ilaria Dorigatti, Michael Tristem, William D Pearse

Posted 14 Sep 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.09.12.20193250

As COVID-19 continues to spread across the world, it is increasingly important to understand the factors that influence its transmission. Seasonal variation driven by responses to changing environment has been shown to affect the transmission intensity of several coronaviruses. However, the impact of the environment on SARS-CoV-2 remains largely unknown, and thus seasonal variation remains a source of uncertainty in forecasts of SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Here we address this issue by assessing the association of temperature, humidity, UV radiation, and population density with estimates of transmission rate (R). Using data from the United States of America, we explore correlates of transmission across USA states using comparative regression and integrative epidemiological modelling. We find that policy intervention (`lockdown') and reductions in individuals' mobility are the major predictors of SARS-CoV-2 transmission rates, but in their absence lower temperatures and higher population densities are correlated with increased SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Our results show that summer weather cannot be considered a substitute for mitigation policies, but that lower autumn and winter temperatures may lead to an increase in transmission intensity in the absence of policy interventions or behavioural changes. We outline how this information may improve the forecasting of SARS-CoV-2, its future seasonal dynamics, and inform intervention policies.

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