COVID-19 Infectiousness: Facts vs. Fiction

June 10, 2020 5:12 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

New research suggests home HVAC systems could help spread virus particles in indoor spaces. This means that, as the summer arrives, the role of air conditioners might factor into how communities will stay safe from COVID-19.

Can COVID-19 really spread through air conditioning? One study found nine people were infected with the virus after sitting near an air conditioning vent in Wuhan, China, where the virus is believed to have initiated. The study closely examined how a single asymptomatic customer at the restaurant impacted other diners nearby after infectious droplets were circulated through the air conditioning system. That diner was sitting next to an AC unit. Four people at that person’s table later tested positive, along with five people at other surrounding tables.

The science behind infection via HVAC

The infectious nature of droplets produced through standard talking and breathing is why it’s so important for people to maintain at least six feet of space between each other at all times. However, some very small particles can stay floating in the air, which can result in inhalation exposure.

In the case of the Wuhan restaurant, the airflow from the air conditioner may have caused droplets to flow from table to table in that dining area.

To better understand all of this, it is important to consider how air conditioners work. The equipment removes humidity from the air, because water vapor holds on to heat. However, moisture also helps keep viral droplets weighed down and prevents them from becoming airborne. If the water vapor is removed as part of the process of cooling the air (as is the case in air conditioning), this may in some cases cause infectious droplets to stick around longer than they otherwise would in a space where humidity is higher, such as the outdoors or in an indoor, non-air conditioned space.

Is there cause for concern?

Does this mean people need to be concerned about being in air-conditioned spaces, or about using air conditioning in their own home?

The researchers say no—while there is the possibility for air conditioning to help transmit the virus, the real risk factor is close contact with other people. Anyone who has practiced safe social distancing measures or isolation should not be worried about using their home’s air conditioning system. Unless you’re hosting big parties or letting people come into your home who may be carrying the virus, you don’t have any reason to be concerned about the safety of using your air conditioning.

There is more of a concern with air conditioning in shared public spaces. Air conditioning always has the potential to influence viral spread, even outside this pandemic. HVAC systems can circulate respiratory virus particles at any time of year. With the lack of a vaccine and the rapid transmission of the novel coronavirus, though, this becomes a much larger issue.

Any time you find yourself in a large crowd, you are at a much larger risk for contracting the virus. The more people, the worse the risk. Air vents in locations with larger crowds are likely to collect higher concentrations of COVID-19 droplets, and the lack of humidity could impact the likelihood of breathing in those particles.

So, can COVID-19 spread through air conditioning? The answer is yes—but that shouldn’t stop you from running your AC at home. For more information or to schedule AC service in Mabank, TX, get in touch with Ken’s Comfort Zone Air Conditioning today.

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