Air Conditioning Systems and Coronavirus: What you Need to Know
As we get closer to summer, the coronavirus pandemic’s lockdown and social distancing procedures have to adapt to new behaviors. We can predict that people’s behavior will change during the summer months as they try to interpret their familiar summer activities in the context of coronavirus safety regulations. The higher temperatures will create new challenges for safety professionals and legislators who are trying their best to keep the number of infected as low as possible.
The effect of our air conditioning systems may be at the top of their list of worries. New evidence suggests that while the high temperatures and increased sun exposure won’t have a significant impact on coronavirus activity, our air conditioning systems could spread the disease faster than we realize. This study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says as much after conducting a study of a Chinese restaurant associated with an outbreak of the virus earlier this year.
In addition to keeping a six-foot distance from others, keeping gatherings below 10 people, and following the other social distancing protocols recommended by health and government professionals, we also need to consider the impact of our air conditioners on the spread of the virus in the coming months.
How air conditioners work
Air conditioners cool the air by removing humidity from it. Since water vapor retains heat, the process of removing excess moisture naturally makes the room feel cooler. However, as health professionals are now realizing, this could have negative implications for going out in public into air-conditioned spaces.
The problem is in the way that water droplets in the air cycle faster when the droplet is heavier. This means that a particle in the air infected with COVID-19 lasts longer in the room and stands a better chance of infecting someone after an air conditioning system removes the moisture from it.
This has significant implications for how we think of clean spaces as we push through the pandemic, particularly in the summertime when more people will naturally congregate to air-conditioned spaces. What does it mean for people who are staying at home? Should we be worried about even our own HVAC systems?
What to do if you’re at home
If you practice safe social distancing procedures and frequently sanitize your hands, you shouldn’t have more to worry about staying in your home more than you do already. The problem with air conditioning systems is their ability to more quickly spread particles of the virus that are already present in the environment and to allow them to linger for longer.
This means that in the case of the home environment, everyone is contained already so if someone has it, everyone will most likely get it, HVAC or no. And if you practice healthy procedures, an air conditioning system won’t increase your chances of infection.
If you’re concerned, however, a Reme Halo Air Purification system can be an extra precaution. This air purifier is installed directly in your ducts and purifies your entire home – every room the central AC unit services. With one of these installed, germs, gases, and particles will be automatically filtered out, which is just one more way you can keep your family safe, especially if you have an essential worker in the family who is still going in and out and contacting others on the outside.
It’s in public spaces that these precautions become more important, even as they become more difficult to control.
What to do if you go out
Large businesses like restaurants, gyms, and movie theaters that rely on crowds are having a tough time adapting to the new business conditions associated with social distancing. Many of them are planning to be half full (or less) during their normally crowded and lucrative summer months.
Still, in hot places like Florida, Disney World and the various beaches will have no trouble getting crowds to come if they decide to open. This means that the new studies on how air conditioning systems impact the spread of COVID-19 could become much more significant.
The air vents in densely populated businesses like these could allow particles containing COVID-19 to linger longer than normal, thanks to the HVAC’s ability to remove humidity from the air. Combined with the summer heat’s natural inclination to make people want to convene in areas with lower humidity because of the running AC systems, you have a recipe for a potential second wind in terms of the spread of the coronavirus.
It may seem like a losing battle, but one easy remedy for the situation was brought up by the American Society for Microbiology. They recommended that businesses use their windows instead of the AC systems as often as possible. This could keep a cross-breeze going in a restaurant or a waiting area at a theme park to keep air moving without the AC system’s negative impact on the spread of the virus.
Air conditioning systems are going to be running on overdrive in the coming summer months, which represents the first summer most of us have ever experienced where the spread of a contagious virus is a looming threat.
In terms of living in our homes, the HVAC system doesn’t pose much of a threat, so long as we practice the same social distancing and health procedures we’ve been hearing about for months now. Still, if you’re worried, an air purification unit can give you a buffer on any possibility of the virus spreading (it’s also a good investment in your family’s health in general, virus or no virus).
As for public gathering places like restaurants, bars, gyms, and theme parks, air conditioning systems pose a greater threat. Their ability to remove humidity from the air may cause COVID-19 particles to linger longer and pose a greater risk of spreading the infection.
More studies are needed on the potential dangers of AC units on the spread of the virus. However, the same social distancing practices and a few open windows may be enough to offset any significant changes caused by your HVAC.