Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

Alaska is emerging as a possible test case for what winter may be like in the U.S.

By Jonathan Wolfe

This is the Coronavirus Briefing, an informed guide to the pandemic. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.

In the past seven days, seven countries — Argentina, Brazil, Britain, France, India, Russia and the U.S. — have each reported at least 100,000 new cases of the coronavirus, helping to push total cases worldwide to more than 40.7 million.

Boston suspended in-person learning in public schools, citing the city’s rising tide of cases.

Gov. Philip Murphy of New Jersey went into quarantine after a staff member tested positive for the virus.

Get the latest updates here, as well as maps for U.S. metro areas and vaccines in development.

What will winter bring?

A third surge of coronavirus cases has gripped the U.S. — with outbreaks across nearly the entire country — inviting fears that the approaching winter may make a dangerous situation even worse.

But how can we know what the colder months will bring?

We don’t have a crystal ball, but Alaska is emerging as a possible test case for what winter may be like in the U.S.

During the summer months, when the virus pummeled the South and the West, Alaska kept the virus in check, largely because of a top-notch containment effort. Alaska conducted more tests than almost any other state and marshaled an army of contact tracers to track every person who tested positive. At the time, Alaska was recording some of the fewest cases per capita in the U.S.

Now, temperatures are once again dropping below zero, sunset greets the evening commute, and people are heading indoors to eat, drink and socialize — giving the virus new opportunities. The weekly case average in Alaska reached its highest point of the year on Friday, and the percentage of people who have tested positive has doubled in recent weeks. Tribal villages have been forced into lockdown in parts of the state, and contact tracing has come under strain.

In addition to thriving indoors, the coronavirus may be more virulent in colder weather and lower relative humidities. Research has shown that some viruses persist longer in colder and drier conditions and that aerosolized viruses can remain more stable in cooler air. Viruses can replicate more swiftly in such conditions, and human immune systems may respond differently depending on seasons.

In Alaska, winter weather has complicated efforts to send supplies to small villages with outbreaks, and may prevent medevac flights from reaching them. Gov. Mike Dunleavy said that the state was continuing to build out supplemental hospital capacity should it be needed.

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