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More people die in winter than in summer. The coronavirus could change that

July 20, 2020, 9:18 PM UTC

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Good afternoon, readers.

I’m currently shacked up in my bedroom because it’s the only room in my apartment with air conditioning in the midst of a brutal heat wave in New York and other parts of the country. But what’s weighing on my mind is what this means for people who don’t have the luxury of dealing with a pandemic, a recession, and global warming all at the same time.

I feel bad for blasting a window A/C unit because of what it does to the environment (and dreading the utility bill coming my way this month). On a broader level, though, I’m dreading the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic colliding with a hot, humid summer across America—and how both of those realities will disproportionately affect those who are already afflicted.

To date, nearly 141,000 Americans have died from COVID and there are 3.8 million confirmed cases in the country, according to Johns Hopkins. The death toll is a lagging indicator.

Imagine being homeless or lacking access to air conditioning in a city like New York or Washington, D.C. right now, where temperatures are well into the 90s (Fahrenheit). Humidity spikes the heat index further. That suffocating heat is expected to extend into the Pacific Northwest and other parts of the country in the coming days.

Now imagine having to wear a mask under those conditions (which, as I’ve emphasized, is critical from a public health standpoint) when there are few avenues for relief. In New York, cooling centers that provide respite from the heat are required to abide by public health measures such as distancing and masking. That’s a responsible thing to do from a health standpoint. But it lowers capacity at a time when people need these resources the most.

One tragic irony of all this is that, usually, winter is the season when the most people die. CDC data “show very clearly that the heart of winter—December, January, and February—are the deadliest months of the year. This may seem counterintuitive, given how much the media hypes summer heat waves. But the reality is that the summer months are actually the safest,” writes the American Council on Science and Health.

Many factors may drive that trend, including a lack of access to heating or housing in the coldest months. But a pandemic like COVID-19 could very well upend that historic norm, just as it has for so many others.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com
@the_sy_guy

DIGITAL HEALTH

Can the pandemic transform telehealth? We've written about how one of the very few silver linings of the coronavirus outbreak is the potential to boost telehealth (although that comes with its own set of problems). One group trying to make that happen is the MA FQHC Telehealth Consortium, according to Healthcare IT News, and it's focusing on expanding access to the basic devices (cell phones, laptops, etc) required to make telemedicine mainstream. (Healthcare IT News)

INDICATIONS

Caution on COVID vaccines. A joint project between Oxford and British drug giant AstraZeneca on a COVID vaccine has been health media catnip. On Monday, the firms added that the experimental product produced immune responses in a study published in the journal Lancet. But before you get too excited (caution and healthy skepticism is always warranted in times like these) it's important to look at the details. "We may need two doses. Other vaccines will need two doses. So we will need several vaccines," said AZ CEO Pascal Soriot. (Fortune)

Glaxo, CureVac strike coronavirus vaccine deal. On that note... GlaxoSmithKline has struck a deal with the much smaller biotech CureVac to support vaccine development (COVID and otherwise) based on mRNA technology. The $164 million deal could have implications well beyond coronavirus if mRNA platforms (more on that here) actually work.

THE BIG PICTURE

COVID cases continue to soar in Florida. There were "only" eight coronavirus deaths in New York on Sunday, according to the CDC. But the situation looks much more grim across the country. More than 30 states have reported increases in COVID cases in the past week; in Florida, there have now been six straight days of 10,000 new daily reported cases. (Reuters)

REQUIRED READING

Confidential computing and why cloud companies are so interested in itby Jonathan Vanian

Many businesses are using e-commerce for the first time due to the pandemicby Rachel Schallom

Hong Kong had the coronavirus contained. But key mistakes led to new infection wavesby Naomi Xu Elegant

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