Air conditioning does not save from COVID-19 spread; it, in fact, facilitates it!
COVID-19 is not only a deadly but also a smart virus. It has evaded the understanding of viral behavior which we know until now. There were predictions that with the coming of summer, the pandemic will subside. But it is in fact increasing to large numbers daily. Ventilation experts feel that the reason is in the air conditioning that people use to escape the heat.
Air-conditioning and COVID-19 spread
COVID-19 was expected to decrease in numbers with the advent of summer months. But the contrary has happened. The figures of infected cases is rising to record-breaking levels. Why is the virus not ebbing with the coming of heat of summer. Normally other virus infection decrease with heat and COVID-19 is also heat-labile.
Engineers and ventilation experts feel that the answer is due to the fact that to avoid the summer sun intense heat, people are retreating indoors. And they are employing air conditioning techniques to cool the rooms and themselves. It is these air conditioners which are causing the rise in cases. Their unplanned air currents aid the spread of the virus, experts state.
Ventilation and spread of COVID-19
Experts in ventilatory systems and air conditioners (HVAC) feel that air conditioners do not help to decrease the COVID-19 spread. They in fact aid it. William Bahnfleth, chair of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers’ Epidemic Task Force (ASHRAE) states:
“The main way (air conditioning) can contribute to spreading coronavirus is by creating strong air currents that can move the droplets … and contribute to increase risk,”
William is also professor at Penn State University. This is particularly dangerous in places like bars and restaurants where air conditioners are installed for clients’ comfort. Len Horovitz, pulmonary specialist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City explains that even if people practice social distancing at these places, the air ventilation can cause droplets to spread in the room.
More on the perils of air conditioners
CDC has also noted this observation on how air conditioners have helped spread of the coronavirus. There was an outbreak in people who dined at a restaurant in Guangzhou, China. In a span of 12 days, 9 people who dined at this restaurant fell ill due to another restaurant diner who had COVID-19 infection.
There were 91 people in the restaurant on a particular day when the rest likely got infected. But the infection happened only in people who were on the tables in the way of the air-conditioner’s airflow. The authors concluded:
“Ventilation is the key control point for an airborne virus,”
WHO has recently admitted that aerosols could also cause infections easily, though on an earlier occasion it had ruled that aerosols do not cause infection. There is a filtration method in the air conditioners but it does not remove viruses and particles less than 1 micron in size. Wendell Porter, senior lecturer at the University of Florida adds:
“Most air conditioning systems won’t filter (virus) out, and if it did filter it out, it probably went right by and right into your face first,”
So until we have an optimized air conditioner to handle coronavirus, the safest bet would be outside air.