ICYMI: COVID-19 fears dominate, snow graces an iconic race and stormy weather rattles Egypt


COVID-19 has been the topic on everyone's minds recently, and this week, the potentially deadly illness reached new levels of severity as cases continue to be confirmed across the globe. Meanwhile, New York took action against further spread of COVID-19, and experts weighed in on whether the warmer weather of spring and summer will have any impact on slowing down the virus. Here's a recap of the news you may have missed.

WHO upgrades COVID-19 outbreak to pandemic levels

As if the mounting number of worldwide cases of COVID-19 weren't scary enough, it's now official - the novel coronavirus outbreak is now a global pandemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) made the sobering announcement on March 11 following continued round-the-clock monitoring of the outbreak's spread.

This marks the first pandemic in 11 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Cases of the sometimes-deadly disease have expanded well beyond China, exploding 13-fold within a mere two-week period, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said this week.

COVID-19 outbreak
Workers place a mask on the figure of the Fallas festival in Valencia, Wednesday March 11, 2020. The Fallas festival which was due to take place on March 13 has been canceled over the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Alberto Saiz)

"Thousands more are fighting for their lives in hospitals," Tedros added. "We are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction."

AccuWeather is keeping you updated on the latest news surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak. You can follow the most recent developments here.

New York takes action amid COVID-19 outbreak 

In the United States alone, more than 1,700 confirmed COVID-19 cases had been reported by Friday, and at least 40 deaths had been blamed on the illness. Meanwhile, New York, where there were more than 300 confirmed cases by week's end, is taking action to try to prevent further spread of the infectious disease. AccuWeather's Dexter Henry visited New Rochelle on March 11, where a one-mile containment area was set up this past week under the orders of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

"It is not a containment zone, people are allowed to go and come as they please," Henry reported just outside of that area. He noted that large gathering places like churches and schools in the area would be closed for a two-week period from March 12 through March 25.

Supermarkets were expected to remain in service, Henry said. The National Guard is stepping in to bring food for the community as well as to clean and sanitize areas.

Will warm weather slow COVID-19? ‘Probably not,' one expert says -- but another says new research shows higher temps slow the virus' activity

Many health officials have advised the public to treat the COVID-19 pandemic as a particularly bad outbreak of influenza. However, unlike the seasonal flu, which seems to ease up as the weather turns warmer, some infectious disease experts are divided over whether the new coronavirus can be slowed by warmth.

John Nicholls, a professor of pathology at Hong Kong University, told Accuweather exclusively that new research performed on a lab-grown copy of SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19, shows the strain is very sensitive to temperature.

"In cold environments, there is longer virus survival than warm ones," he told AccuWeather.

But not everyone is so optimistic about weather's impact.

Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, recently stated in an analysis that warmer conditions would "probably not" significantly slow down COVID-19's spread. Among the areas he examined were environment and humidity, since humidity is a known factor in the spread of other respiratory illnesses like the flu, which needs dry, cold air to thrive.

"To my knowledge, [there] are no specific studies of the role of humidity for coronaviruses or other respiratory viruses besides flu," Lipsitch wrote. He and other researchers published a paper in February that examined humidity's effect on COVID-19.

The authors concluded that "weather alone (i.e., increase of temperature and humidity as spring and summer months arrive in the North Hemisphere) will not necessarily lead to declines in case counts without the implementation of extensive public health interventions." Read more about their research and the effects of temperature on COVID-19 here.

2020 Iditarod race gets underway with more snow than in recent years

Snow is never a bad thing when it comes to Alaska's annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, which kicked off last weekend. The 48th running is underway, but with an abundance of winter storms that have blanketed the course, there's some concern that the nearly 1,000-mile-long race from Anchorage to Nome might be a little trickier this year.

"We've had a lot of snow," said race director Mark Nordman, according to The Associated Press. "I won't ever say too much snow, but it's been a challenge to get the trail put in." Anchorage is about to wrap up its snowiest winter season in nearly a decade, having seen 83.9 inches of snow accumulation as of March 9. The city's annual average is 74.5 inches.

Fabio Berlusconi of Lomazzo, Italy, leaves the start line during the ceremonial start of this year's Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 7, 2020, in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

In recent years, contenders have had to deal with the opposite of too much snow. There was so little snowfall in 2015 and 2017 that the race's starting line had to be moved from Anchorage to Fairbanks. In 2016, organizers had to import snow into Anchorage just to get the race started.

"We've actually had better snow-our best snow year for like 10 years now," defending Iditarod champion Pete Kaiser told Alaska Public Media. Kaiser added that his "strategy will definitely change" with more snow on the ground. The winner is expected to cross the finish line sometime between March 16 and March 18.


Deadly storm hits Egypt, prompting school closures

At least seven people were killed as a strong storm pushed across Egypt this week. The Egyptian government started prepping for the storm's arrival on Tuesday afternoon, when Egyptian Prime Minister Moustafa Madbouly announced school closures throughout the country in anticipation for Thursday's severe weather.

Public and private business sectors were on leave by Thursday, while the Egyptian Football Association suspended matches through Saturday. After hitting Egypt, the same storm is forecast to head northeastward into Saturday, posing the threat of flooding in Syria as it also impacts countries including Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

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