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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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What the cold, snowy winter predicted for Spokane means for the pandemic

Oct. 15, 2020 Updated Thu., Oct. 15, 2020 at 8:45 p.m.

A skier finds some fresh powder in the North Bowl at Schweitzer Mountain.  (John Nelson/courtesy)
A skier finds some fresh powder in the North Bowl at Schweitzer Mountain. (John Nelson/courtesy)

Spokane is in for more snow and lower temperatures than average this winter. And while it might be a snow-lover’s dream, it could have consequences amid the COVID-19 crisis.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its winter outlook for the United States on Thursday. While most of the country can expect a winter that’s warmer than average, the Inland Northwest will probably be colder and wetter than usual.

Officials are preparing for a spike in coronavirus cases as temperatures cool, said Kelli Hawkins, spokesperson for the Spokane Regional Health District.

Cooler fall weather has already brought with it a surge in COVID-19 cases nationally. Thursday, 21 states hit their peak 7-day average of new cases since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

“This is a very ominous sign. I think we’re in for a pretty bad fall and winter,” Dr. Peter Hotez, professor and dean of tropical medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine, told CNN. “This is the time when we could be entering one of the worst periods of our epidemic, and one of our worst periods in modern American public health.”

The Spokane Regional Health District is also preparing for mental health consequences this winter, as people hunkered down indoors have fewer options to reach out to others, Hawkins said.

While much of the U.S. benefits from a relatively warm winter, just a few states – mainly Washington, Idaho, Montana, the Dakotas – will likely get the opposite.

That prediction is based on the likelihood of La Niña, the climate phenomenon that is the colder counterpart of El Niño, said Laurie Nisbit, National Weather Service meteorologist at the Spokane office.

Since 1950, there have been 22 La Niña years, and for Spokane those bring colder temperatures and an average of about 10 more inches of snow, Nisbit said.

In the nearer future, Spokane’s November has equal chances of warmer- or colder-than-average temperatures, but above-average precipitation is likely, Nisbit said.

While homeless shelters see an influx of patrons every winter, that surge has come early this year, said Dena Carr, assistant director at the House of Charity. She suspects people have been seeking shelter earlier because of lack of open public spaces to warm up and use the restroom.

“It’s an unprecedented time, but we’ve also had a lot of time to put together a plan, so we feel pretty good about what we’ve come up with,” Carr said. “We’re just having to be stricter in how we’re managing space.”

House of Charity has opened up a new site for women so sleeping quarters could be spread out more without reducing the number of beds, she said. They’ve also adjusted their service model so people are not congregating where House of Charity offers meals, mail services, hygiene products and other goods.

During nice weather, patrons have been able to hang out in an outdoor space. As it gets colder, House of Charity has planned a large open space with a grid-like floor indicating how far apart people will need to space out.

When outdoor activities are thwarted by the cold, everyone will need to do their part to keep the pandemic under control, even during the holidays, Dr. Anthony Fauci told CBS Evening News anchor Norah O’Donnell on Wednesday.

“Our advice for the holidays is more of the same, unfortunately,” said Hawkins, of the health district.

In most situations, skipping even small indoor gatherings will be safest.

“It’s just for now, not forever,” Hawkins said. “If we can just hold out through the winter and continue to practice health measures to stay safe, we will get through this.”

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