Can Your Air Conditioner Spread Coronavirus?


As the weather is expected to warm up, people are bracing for the unpredictable behavior of COVID-19 during the spring and summer months.

Experts have previously predicted that while warmer weather won’t completely curtail the spread of the illness, it may slow down the virus.

By now, it is common knowledge that coronavirus is transmitted via droplets, person-to-person contact and in some cases contaminated surfaces.

But health officials are concerned about the potential of ventilation to spread COVID-19 in the coming months.

“From what we know so far, it’s mostly short range, but if you have the right circumstances then it could be airborne,” Dr. William Bahnfleth, air quality expert and professor of architectural engineering at Penn State University, told CBS2.

Bahnfleth points to a recent report by researchers in China that shows how poor ventilation can contribute to the spread of the illness.

The research analyzed a restaurant in China where 10 customers became infected after being seated at three tables, three feet apart.

The case study concluded that despite the distance between the diners, the air conditioner in the facility moved droplets from one table to another.

To prepare for the possible risks, experts like Bahnfleth advise upgrading filters in AC units.

“In general, the ventilation and filtration, particularly if it’s high-efficiency filtration, are going to be risk-reducing factors,” Bahnfleth said.

In April, an MIT researcher argued that the virus can travel farther and linger longer than is commonly assumed, warning that “pathogen-bearing droplets of all sizes can travel 23 to 27 feet.”

While large droplets fall to the ground when an individual coughs or sneezes, smaller droplets can remain suspended longer in air, where currents can move them around.

Some contend that it is still to early to lift social distancing restrictions and begin opening non-essential business, as many states are doing around the country.

“I don’t think we have enough information to be widely opening up society, to be honest. And that’s one of the things, we need answers to questions like this,” said physician Dr. Matthew Heinz, who formerly served as director of Provider Outreach in the Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs under the Obama administration during the Ebola crisis.

Heinz warns that caution must be exercised and it is still not clear among researchers how many droplets need to be breathed in to be contaminated.

“I think you need to assume it’s possible and that’s why it’s so important to maintain the social distancing,” Heinz said.

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