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Does COVID-19 Spread Faster Due to Air Conditioning?

Does COVID-19 Spread Faster Due to Air Conditioning?

After urging from more than 200 scientists, the World Health Organization (WHO) admitted that the coronavirus can remain airborne. However, this only happens under certain situations, such as with coronavirus and air conditioning, as the virus can become an airborne pathogen.

But with this recent change, people are now starting to worry if the current methods of preventing the spread of COVID-19 are still effective. If the virus is now airborne, what steps do we need to take in order to stay safe?

What does it mean if coronavirus can remain airborne?

According to the WHO, the virus can be spread in certain indoor situations. In particular, crowded places or places with inadequate ventilation, can increase the risk of infection.

This confirmation came after outbreaks in restaurants, choir practices, and in gyms point towards the possibility that the coronavirus can remain airborne and infect people that way. As a result, hundreds of scientists worldwide urged the WHO to rethink their current stance about whether or not coronavirus can remain airborne.

Despite this risk, the WHO maintains that the possibility of getting infected this way is rare. As long as people follow the current protocol for avoiding COVID-19, such as wearing masks and following social distancing, the risk can be reduced.

Can air conditioners spread COVID-19?

With the news that coronavirus can remain airborne, one question that frequently pops up is the connection between coronavirus and air conditioning.

Should people stop using their air conditioners in the meantime? This can be very difficult to do, especially in a tropical country such as the Philippines, where a lot of offices, establishments and homes use air conditioners.

But according to the UK Health and Safety Executive, the risk that air conditioners can spread coronavirus is very low. However, they added that the risk is only minimized “as long as there is an adequate supply of fresh air and ventilation.”

For offices and establishments that recirculate the air, the risk of spreading COVID-19 is still there.

Air conditioners usually come in two different types. The first type takes in fresh air from the outside, cools it, and circulates it into a room. The second type simply cools and recirculates the same air inside the room.

These recirculating air conditioners are most common in centralized air conditioning systems, and split-type airconditioners. These are most commonly used to cool large spaces, such as offices, bars, and restaurants.

Dr. Shaun Fitzgerald, in an interview with The Telegraph, shares, “The recommended strategy now, if you have one of these split units, is to throw the window open and sacrifice your desire for a cold or cooler environment. If there is a modicum of wind it will move the air around. If you can’t open a window, turn the unit off.”

Opening a window with an air conditioner on might seem counter-intuitive at first, but it could help mitigate the risk.

Certain split-type air conditioning units also have a feature to turn off the recirculation mode. If your air conditioner has this option, it would be best to turn the recirculation off.

Some outbreaks have been linked to air conditioners

Last April, a study found a link between a coronavirus outbreak in China, and an air conditioner in a restaurant. According to the researchers, “We conclude that in this outbreak, droplet transmission was prompted by air-conditioned ventilation. The key factor for infection was the direction of the airflow.”

They added that the arrangement of the tables could have also played a role in spreading the infection. The tables were in close proximity with one another, and were all directly receiving air from the air conditioner. This points towards the possibility of coronavirus and air conditioning does not make for a safe combination.

This means that some offices and restaurants might need to reconsider their current arrangements. An increased distance between the people inside, and pointing the air conditioner to another direction could help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

At the moment, it is still unknown if using air filters can prevent the spread of coronavirus.

What can people do about it?

Because coronavirus can remain airborne in certain situations, it would be best to take steps in order to prevent those situations from happening. Here are some tips to follow:

  • Avoid using air conditioners that recirculate air. Crack open a window and use fans to stay cool instead.
  • If your fan has the option to turn off the recirculation, it would be best to do so.
  • If your workplaces has the option to work from home, it would be the most effective way to prevent coronavirus from spreading.
  • For restaurants, avoid sitting in places where you are directly in front of the air conditioner.
  • If possible, try to avoid going to restaurants or public places.
  • When outside, practice social distancing.
  • It is also a good idea to wear a mask whenever you go outside.
  • When you are outside, be sure to avoid touching your face, and wash your hands frequently.
  • Try to stay in your home as much as possible. Avoid going out unless it is absolutely necessary.

By following these tips, you should be able to lower your risk of getting infected with COVID-19.

 

Learn more about COVID-19, here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

WHO: Indoor airborne spread of coronavirus possible | Inquirer News, https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1304791/who-indoor-airborne-spread-of-coronavirus-possible, Accessed July 13 2020

Coronavirus: Some air conditioning units risk spreading Covid-19 and should be turned off, advise experts | The Independent, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/coronavirus-air-conditioning-covid-19-office-a9614621.html, Accessed July 13 2020

Air conditioning may be factor in COVID-19 spread in the South – Harvard Gazette, https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2020/06/air-conditioning-may-be-factor-in-covid-19-spread-in-the-south/, Accessed July 13 2020

Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems in the context of COVID-19, https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/publications-data/heating-ventilation-air-conditioning-systems-covid-19, Accessed July 13 2020

Early Release – COVID-19 Outbreak Associated with Air Conditioning in Restaurant, Guangzhou, China, 2020 – Volume 26, Number 9—September 2020 – Emerging Infectious Diseases journal – CDC, https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/26/9/20-1749_article, Accessed July 13 2020

COVID-19 Outbreak Associated with Air Conditioning in Restaurant, Guangzhou, China, 2020 – Volume 26, Number 7—July 2020 – Emerging Infectious Diseases journal – CDC, https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/26/7/20-0764_article, Accessed July 13 2020

Covid-19: should we be concerned about air conditioning? – podcast | Science | The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/science/audio/2020/jun/16/covid-19-should-we-be-concerned-about-air-conditioning-podcast, Accessed July 13 2020

WHO: Indoor airborne spread of coronavirus possible | Inquirer News, https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1304791/who-indoor-airborne-spread-of-coronavirus-possible, Accessed July 13 2020

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Medically reviewed by Hello Doctor Medical Panel
Written by Jan Alwyn Batara
Updated Jul 13, 2020
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