Energy outages and freezing temperatures proceed to throttle Texas. Folks with out warmth or protected water are heading to warming centers or gathering within the properties of buddies who’ve the lights on. Probably the most urgent concern for a lot of Texans proper now could be retaining heat, discovering meals, and ensuring their water is protected to drink. However within the background is the ever-present menace of COVID-19 — which may unfold in these indoor areas.
COVID-19 circumstances in Texas are declining proper now, like they’re in a lot of the nation, however thousands of cases are nonetheless reported every day. Hospitalization charges are nonetheless excessive. The continuing pandemic implies that some other catastrophe, just like the freeze, is layering on high of a baseline emergency. “It’s broadened all the pieces right into a compound catastrophe, the place you’ve got a couple of drawback taking place on the identical time,” says Kristina Dahl, a senior local weather scientist on the Union of Involved Scientists.
Hate to say it, however there’ll seemingly be a swell of COVID circumstances in Texas as individuals have been compelled to desert their properties, congregate along with family and friends exterior their regular bubbles, all simply to remain ALIVE within the chilly climate.
— Cedric Darkish, MD, MPH, FACEP (@RealCedricDark) February 17, 2021
The freeze creates comparable circumstances to the COVID-19 danger posed by different weather-related disasters final yr: hurricanes Laura and Delta. Each hit Louisiana and different components of the Gulf Coast in a one-two punch on the finish of the summer season and compelled hundreds to depart their properties for security.
Earlier than these storms hit, Dahl labored on a research modeling the potential impacts of a hypothetical hurricane evacuation on COVID-19 unfold. That evaluation predicted that sort of motion may trigger a spike in circumstances. It additionally discovered that social distancing and masks may restrict the danger. “The identical issues that we’d been listening to all through the pandemic may actually assist to restrict that unfold,” she says.
A transparent hurricane-related surge in circumstances never materialized in Louisiana after the hurricanes. There could possibly be a number of causes for that, Dahl says. First, the state provided resort vouchers to evacuees, which allow them to escape the storm’s path with out crowding into multifamily shelters. COVID-19 circumstances have been additionally excessive total at the moment, which makes it harder for epidemiologists to determine the place circumstances have been coming from. (Excessive case charges made it onerous for researchers to determine the influence of different potential COVID-19 clusters, just like the January riots on the US Capitol.)
The Texas winter storm is a special form of weather-related catastrophe than a hurricane, however Dahl says the warnings from the modeling research nonetheless apply. “The research that we did was hypothetical hurricane, however it may simply have simply had been a wildfire, or an excessive chilly snap, or some other form of occasion that causes individuals to begin shifting round,” she says.
Determining if the freezing climate contributes to main COVID-19 unfold might be a problem for a similar causes it was troublesome to establish any spikes after the summer season’s hurricanes. Circumstances are dropping across the nation, however they’re nonetheless excessive, and it could be onerous to see any type of sign within the information. The storm additionally isn’t concentrated in a single space, so direct impacts on case developments could possibly be onerous to see, Dahl says.
Like in Louisiana, although, further COVID-19 circumstances aren’t preordained. If individuals put on masks and officers arrange protected locations for individuals to assemble and get heat, it received’t be as simple for the virus to unfold. “The identical classes apply round the necessity to preserve transmission low, wherever persons are going,” Dahl says.