with Paulina Firozi

Hardly anyone thinks this summer will be at all normal for Americans. Social distancing will probably be in place in some form through the season, Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus task force coordinator, said yesterday.

But here’s a spot of good news: Research suggests heat and humidity could be potent against the novel coronavirus. 

Not inside the body – as President Trump has mused – but on surfaces exposed to higher temperatures and sunlight in particular.

Half the virus may be killed in as little as two minutes if it’s on a surface exposed to sunlight and high humidity at room temperature.

That's according to lab studies conducted the Department of Homeland Security and detailed at a White House coronavirus briefing last week. Under drier, shady conditions, the virus’s half-life is far greater — around 18 hours.

The results are preliminary and haven’t been peer reviewed. Yet they could go on the “hopeful” side of the ledger for governors eyeing the summer months with trepidation, puzzling over how to return their states to some semblance of normalcy while also keeping the virus tamped down. How the warmer summer months will affect the spread of the virus is a big, unanswered question, and one that holds major bearing on which types of social gatherings could be safely resumed.

Trump advisers are irked that the president’s bizarre comments about bringing light “inside the body” made headlines instead.

Trump speculated that ultraviolet light could be used to treat covid-19 patients, in comments that were widely panned by epidemiologists and his own administration. “Supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way,” he said.

On two news shows yesterday, Birx dismissed Trump’s remarks as “musings” and said the media’s focus on them has distracted from the DHS findings.

From New York Times reporter Trip Gabriel:

“I was reassured to see what impact sunlight has on the virus,” said Birx, who is reportedly one of the candidates being considered to replace Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. “We should still social distance, but I think it’s really important to see that direct sunlight may actually be able to kill the virus.” 

Trump didn’t describe how exactly he thinks light could be brought inside the body, but raised some possibilities: “Supposing we hit the body with a tremendous — whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light,” he said. 

It's safe to say medical community doesn’t believe shining a light into one’s mouth is an effective way to treat covid-19.

Nor do experts think the coming warmer weather will be enough to turn the pandemic’s tide without other interventions such as widespread testing and robust contact tracing. A panel convened by the National Academies of Sciences recently reported the pandemic is unlikely to wane substantially with the arrival of summer, my colleagues Andrew Freedman and Jason Samenow report. 

Peter Hotez, a vaccine and tropical disease expert at Baylor College of Medicine:

And even Birx said the U.S. needs to have a “breakthrough” in antigen testing in order to get on track for normalcy. 

But research shows sunlight might actually be a useful tool. 

Most pathogenic microbes are highly vulnerable to the ultraviolet light in the sun’s electromagnetic spectrum. Some medical facilities are decontaminating protective masks using ultraviolet light so they can be reused. 

The DHS experiment also tested how the virus decays when exposed to sunlight while airborne, Andrew and Jason report.

“When the airborne virus at temperatures between 70 and 75 degrees is exposed to sunlight, its half-life decreases from around 60 minutes before exposure to 1.5 minutes after,” they write.

William Bryan, the acting undersecretary for science and technology at DHS, summarized it this way: “Within the conditions we’ve tested to date, the virus in droplets of saliva survives best in indoors and dry conditions. … The virus dies quickest in the presence of direct sunlight.”

Several other studies suggest sunlight kills the coronavirus effectively.

  • MIT researchers found 90 percent of the coronavirus transmissions so far have occurred within 37 to 63 degrees and higher humidity. The virus spread more slowly in areas outside these temperature and humidity zones.
  • Ultraviolet light was strongly associated with lower covid-19 growth rates, according to researchers at the University of Connecticut. Their paper, published last week, says the virus probably will “decrease temporarily during summer, rebound by autumn and peak next winter.”
  • Columbia University researchers found that for two other types of coronaviruses, low levels of ultraviolet light in public locations would kill 90 percent of the virus in eight minutes, 95 percent in 11 minutes and 99 percent in 16 minutes. “As all human coronaviruses have similar genomic size, a key determinant of radiation sensitivity, it is realistic to expect that far-UVC light will show comparable inactivation efficiency against other human coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2,” they wrote.

Ahh, oof and ouch

AHH: Several governors defended their decisions to relax social distancing.

The governors of Oklahoma and Colorado argued on the Sunday morning shows that their states’ closures have successfully achieved their goal of building hospital capacity, acquiring personal protective equipment and flattening the curve of the pandemic’s growth.

“The facts in our state are: March 30, we peaked in hospitalizations, with 560 across the state,” Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Today we have 300 across the state in our hospitals. We think it’s time for a measured reopening.”

Stitt said more than 55,000 Oklahomans have been tested and that the positive rate was 6.3 percent. He also noted that no one is obliged to reopen a business.

On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) said he is focused on social distancing measures that are sustainable for the coming weeks and months. He also said an apparent spike in coronavirus cases in Colorado was attributable to previous tests that were just confirmed and added to the total, and does not reflect the present situation.

“We’ve really been laser-focused on figuring out how we can endure and sustain these kinds of social distancing measures,” Polis said. “If we can’t succeed in doing that, the stay-at-home was for nothing.”

OOF: Trump says reports of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar getting fired is “fake news.”

White House officials are discussing whether to replace Azar as frustrations have grown over his handling of the coronavirus crisis earlier this year, as well as of his removal last week of a top vaccine official in his agency, The Washington Post's Yasmeen Abutaleb and Josh Dawsey report.

“Several top White House aides are discussing Azar’s removal and have mused over possible successors, but President Trump has not weighed in,” they write. “It remains unclear whether the president will want to replace his top health official amid a pandemic, because it could signal more chaos and turmoil in the administration’s response, which has come under repeated fire.”

Trump tweeted this yesterday:

Yet Azar has been largely sidelined from the coronavirus response. “He oversaw that effort until Feb. 26, when he was replaced by Vice President Pence amid anger over the continued lack of coronavirus testing and conflicting messages from health officials about the threat of the virus,” my colleagues write. “His agency, however, is still responsible for crucial aspects of the pandemic response, such as leading the search for treatments and vaccines and distributing $100 billion worth of relief to hospitals that was allocated by Congress.” 

OUCH: The U.S. House – the single branch of government Democrats control – has largely sidelined itself during the pandemic.

The chamber is struggling to adopt remote voting, Zoom video hearings or any of the other alternative methods that have become standard for most workplaces in the age of covid-19, The Post's Mike DeBonis and Paul Kane report. 

“No administration official has appeared at a congressional hearing in over a month. Committees have been unable to meet in person to debate and advance bills. There is no firm date for when the new oversight panel will start its work,” they write.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said yesterday she’s “all for” allowing members to vote remotely, but is waiting for bipartisan support from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy before moving forward with any changes to current House rules.

“McCarthy has assured me he will consider this, he’s not there yet,” Pelosi said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“The frustration is evident among House Democrats, with many increasingly convinced that Congress is functioning as a shadow of its former self, with rank and file largely bystanders as party leaders hastily assemble massive spending bills,” Mike and Paul write. “More than a dozen told The Washington Post in recent days that the House was failing to meet its constitutional mandate amid an epochal global crisis, abdicating power to the Trump administration as the nation demands strong political leadership.”

“We’re basically ill-prepared for the nature of this emergency,” said Rep. Denny Heck (D-Wash). “Obviously, there are a lot of things going on with how this money is being spent that are clearly not in keeping with the spirit of what we intended, and it’s harder for us to exercise oversight when we’re all at home in our war rooms.”

Sugar rush

Brad Pitt playing Anthony Fauci on SNL: