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VERIFY: Can COVID-19 be spread by air conditioners?

One study linked spreading the virus with airflow, but based on other research, this isn’t something you should be worried about.

WASHINGTON — QUESTION:

Is there evidence that air conditioners can spread COVID-19?

ANSWER:

No, it is highly unlikely the virus can be spread through air ventilation. One study linked spreading the virus with airflow. But based on other research, this isn’t something you should be worried about.

SOURCES:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)

PROCESS:

As the weather heats up these next couple of months, we're likely going to crank our air conditioning to keep cool. But the circulation of all that air might be a way for germs and bacteria to live in your home.

To verify if air conditioners can spread the coronavirus, our Verify team looked at the above sources.

First, in a study out of China, cited by the CDC, an outbreak of COVID-19 affected 10 people out of 83 customers who had eaten at the same restaurant. Airflow was cited as a reason for transmission.

Remember, the CDC has said that coronavirus is mainly spread from droplets that can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby.

But before you think about tossing your HVAC unit, the researchers of that Chinese study are warning to take it with a grain of salt because there are limitations.

Researchers said they "did not conduct an experimental study simulating the airborne transmission route," and that "six smear samples from the air conditioner... were negative."

Additionally, ProMedica Dr. Brian Kaminski told WTOL this is just one study and we shouldn't put all our eggs in this one basket.

"Although you might make an argument that it's plausible, it's very, very unlikely," Kaminski said. "And if we were to get distracted by that and say, 'We need to start focusing on air conditioners right now,' we would lose that focus on the person-to-person transmission where the real differences are really made."

Furthermore, it turns out having proper ventilation is a crucial part of preventing infection.

Johns Hopkins research found that after social distancing ventilation was the second most significant part of preventing infection spread, because air conditioning removes air from a room where there are virus droplets.

This is also echoed by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, who said, "Ventilation and filtration provided by heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems can reduce the airborne concentration of SARS-CoV-2."

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