While many Americans look forward to hot summer months because some research supports the theory that the coronavirus may wane in the warmth, others worry that the pathogen can spread through AC units.
According to Health, evidence from Wuhan, China where the virus made its debut, showed that nine people in a restaurant were infected by the virus as a result of sitting next to an air conditioning vent. According to researchers, one asymptomatic person was seated by the vent and four people at his table later tested positive for COVID-19 along with five diners at nearby tables.
Experts say there is definitely a risk with the virus traveling through air conditioning systems. Manish Butte, PhD, an associated professor in the department of microbiology, immunology, and molecular genetics at the University of California, Los Angles told Health that when an AC vent is turned on, air flow can push tiny infectious droplets through the air and onto people. “The air flow direction is what matters,” he said, adding that air conditioning can help these droplets spread farther.
Dr. Erin Bromage, a comparative immunologist and professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, said that while you can get the virus if an infected person coughs or sneezes nearby, you can also get sick if you are in an enclosed space for a long period of time where the virus has been released by someone just breathing into the air. In an article for Occupational Health & Safety, Bromage said a single sneeze can release 30,000 droplets.
Air conditioning can help those droplets stay in the air and travel farther, said experts.
John Lednicky, PhD, a microbiology and virology research specialist within the University of Florida’s College of Public Health and Health Professions, told Good Housekeeping that air conditioning cools the air and also removes humidity from a room. He explained that moisture actually helps those potentially infectious respiratory droplets get heavier and fall to the ground. When water vapor is removed from the air, as in the case of air conditioning, those tiny droplets can remain airborne.
Researchers at the University of Oregon and the University of California, published a report that said people should open windows rather than rely on air conditioning systems to stem the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, according to Good Housekeeping.
Experts told Health that home air conditioning systems are still far safer than those in busy public places.
“Within a home, where everyone is highly exposed to each other, there isn’t a need to worry about air conditioning” said Butte. For air-conditioned businesses, the risk increases, so spending any time in an indoor space besides your home needs careful thought. The same social distancing and hand washing protocols that you practice in any public venue will help reduce that risk, said experts.
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