GENEVA — As another record-breaking heat season is approaching the North Hemisphere, climate and health experts have called for stronger response to the compounding threats of summer heat and the spread of COVID-19.
Despite the limited influence of environment conditions on the virus’s spread, hot weather could worsen the situation of COVID-19 patients and even increase transmission rates as people congregate outdoors, while additional heat stress patients may place strain on healthcare and other critical systems, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) cautioned in a statement.
Meanwhile, experts believe “all heat-related illnesses and deaths are preventable, but in the context of COVID-19, approaches should be adapted to local contexts, communications and outreach, and coordination and preparedness are needed,” according to the WMO statement issued following a webinar hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO) in late May.
Professionals and experts have offered some suggestions on dealing with the challenges.
First of all, wearing a face mask is one of the best ways to curb the spread of the coronavirus, although that may increase the risk of heatstroke in summer. Therefore, a comfortable experience with masks in warmer months requires choosing those made from lightweight, breathable materials, such as surgical masks.
Experts also suggested the public cover their faces in most indoor settings and outside where social distancing isn’t possible.
As for reducing the potential spread of airborne or aerosolized viruses, the Global Heat Health Information Network (GHHIN), an independent forum of scientists, practitioners and policy-makers, suggested “all air conditioning and industrial ventilation systems for both residential and high occupancy buildings should be inspected, maintained and cleaned regularly to prevent transmission.”
“Even in well-ventilated environments, people should continue following recommendations of physical distancing and frequent hand hygiene,” the network said in a Q&A report, noting that temperatures are better set between 24-27 Celsius degrees for cooling.
Additionally, isolation, aging, pre-existing medical conditions and other factors could increase people’s vulnerability to extreme heat, said the network spearheaded by the WHO and the WMO.
Therefore, preventive care for the most vulnerable populations is significant, including for the elder aged more than 65, those with underlying health conditions and essential workers who work outdoors in the hottest hours, the GHHIN said, highlighting the importance to empower and coordinate with governments and non-governmental social services to reach those most vulnerable.