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[Weekender] COVID-19: Summertime safety tips

July 4, 2020 - 16:00 By Kim Arin

Summer is in full swing amid an ever deepening pandemic. As the virus is new, figuring out how to navigate the season safely can be daunting. Health experts share their responses to some of the popular queries about the coronavirus in summertime.

Will hot temperatures mitigate the spread?

Contrary to earlier conjectures, warmer weather does not stop the coronavirus from spreading. Countries with hot weather have reported outbreaks as well. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said summer heat and humidity did not appear to inhibit a wave of infections from arriving.

This is partly due to how contagious the coronavirus is, said Dr. Choi Jae-wook of Korea University College of Medicine. From observations so far, it is more infectious than SARS or MERS.

He added, however, the coronavirus is less able to survive under direct sunlight, which can potentially restrain the spread.

Does air-conditioning help transmission?

Pulmonologist Dr. Chun Eun-mi suggested air conditioning can be a factor in driving the transmission of the coronavirus. “Hot temperatures prompt people to spend more time indoors. Having the air conditioner on creates a winter-like environment, which makes people more vulnerable to the virus,” she said.

Infected droplets could also travel farther than they normally would with air-conditioning or fan in the room, she added.

“When there is limited air flow with inadequate ventilation, people are breathing and rebreathing the same air that does not get refreshed. This increases the chance of transmission,” she said. “Improving ventilation inside by opening windows could be a solution.”

Can mosquitos, flies transmit coronavirus?

The short answer is no. To date, there is no evidence to suggest the coronavirus can spread to people via mosquitos or other insects, according to infectious disease specialist Dr. Kim Tae-hyong of Soonchunhyang University Hospital. Some diseases are mosquito-borne, such as dengue, but COVID-19 is not one of them. The main route through which it spreads is through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person speaks, coughs or sneezes. The new coronavirus has not shown it can survive and replicate within a mosquito, making it a highly unlikely host.

What are the risks of going to the beach?

Experts all agree outdoors is much safer than indoors. Still, risks are present any time close interaction occurs. Crowded beaches where people from different areas congregate carry a high risk of virus transmission, said infectious disease specialist Dr. Lee Jacob of Hallym University Hospital.

Beaches across Korea have opened up for the holiday season on Wednesday on the condition that visitors comply with measures to protect themselves and others. These include covering coughs and sneezes, ensuring a 2-meter distance between sunbeds and parasols, and restricting the use of communal showers.

Lee said beach managers should place limits on how many people can be admitted at a given time. Shared surfaces should also be cleaned and disinfected routinely, and symptomatic individuals should be turned away. Some of the most common symptoms are dry cough, tiredness and fever.

Is face mask wearing still essential?

It’s tempting to forgo face masks as temperatures are rising. Wearing face masks is still recommended in public spaces unless you are 1.5 to 2 meters away from others. But keeping masks on can be stressful in the heat. The moisture building up under the mask not only irritates the skin, but may also cause breathing issues.

Choi said the heat and moisture trapped beneath the mask can lead to health risks for people with respiratory problems or other underlying health condition. “Replace your mask once it becomes wet. It’s no longer effective at that point, and could interfere with breathing in severe cases,” he said.

In fact, the KCDC said masks are not necessary in outdoor settings where distancing is possible. Wearing face masks while exposed to heat for an extended time can give rise to heat-related illnesses, according to the agency. Last month, the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety rolled out lightweight masks with more breathable materials intended for summer use for a nifty price of 500 won each. Switching to thinner masks helps ease the discomfort.

By Kim Arin (