Does Air Conditioning Spread Coronavirus? It’s Unlikely

The new study suggests that when coronavirus spread through a restaurant in China, it could have been caused by the air conditioning.

The Air Conditioning Problem
Concerns over whether or not coronavirus could be transmitted through air conditioning started when the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases published an early-release letter on the website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Scientists looked at how three families saw an outbreak of coronavirus following their trip to a restaurant in Guangzhou, China, in January. The scientists suspect that the outbreak was caused by a 63-year-old woman who was asymptomatic at the time.

The woman and her family had traveled to the restaurant from Wuhan and ate at Table A, as it was referred to in the study. Nine other customers at the restaurant got sick. These people were sat at Table B and Table C in the restaurant, which itself had no windows.

Researchers believe that the air conditioner in the restaurant blew water droplets from the woman further than they would have otherwise traveled. It’s worth noting that none of the 8 staff or the 73 other diners became sick.

The researchers recommend restaurants improve ventilation and widen the space between tables in their establishments.

What Do the Experts Say?
Dr William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert from the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee, suggests there is nothing serious to worry about. Dr Schaffner says that there has only been one reported incident of coronavirus travelling through air conditioning, which was the example used in the study.

People have been visiting grocery stories, pharmacies, and other venues during the outbreak. In all of those visits, no one has come down with coronavirus as a result of air conditioning. Dr Schaffner believes that ensuring staff wear the right masks and practice good hygiene will be more important to preventing coronavirus infections.

Dr Amesh Adalja of the John Hopkins University Center for Health Security agrees with Schaffner. Adalja says that the study is interesting, but that it doesn’t represent the real-world situation happening right now.

The current epidemiology suggests that the virus spreads through droplets, which fall to the ground within 6 feet. It is possible that there are extenuating circumstances that enhance the spread, but it shouldn’t be thought of as a major transmission route that needs to be worried about.

With that said, Adalja recommends restaurants and other businesses with air conditioning consider the airflow of their buildings. Businesses may have to adjust their seating to make things less crowded, encourage healthy social distancing, and – hopefully – prevent incidents such as the one in the Chinese restaurant.

Summary
There are some concerns that air conditioning may help to spread coronavirus (COVID-19) due to a recent case in a restaurant in China. Experts believe that this is likely an isolated incident and that air conditioning is relatively safe.