The One Way Summer Makes It Easier to Spread Coronavirus
Being able to stay cool as warmer weather returns is a lot riskier during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It's not just lockdown rules and coronavirus numbers that are changing quickly these days: Temperatures are rising and it's clear that summer is here. And as the cooler, damp days give way to the hot, muggy weather, people all over the country are starting to lean hard on central air to keep the sweatiness at bay. But according to recent research, the same air conditioning units that are keeping you comfortable could also be exposing you to coronavirus.
According to a recent study published in the medical journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, nine people in Wuhan, China, were found to have been infected in a restaurant while sitting near an air conditioning duct. A COVID-19-positive diner without symptoms sitting near the vent is believed to have infected the others, who were seated throughout the dining room. While our understanding of the novel coronavirus as an airborne disease is becoming more accepted by the day, the case study creates concern for health experts who are watching as states begin reopening businesses—especially as they start powering on their air conditioning units for the first time this year.
The danger lies in the mechanics of air conditioners. By recirculating the same air through confined spaces, A/C units exacerbate an already risky condition by potentially spreading droplets to anyone who sets foot indoors. This could make your return visits to recently reopened restaurants, shops, gyms, and bars even riskier than they were in the cooler months.
"Most restaurants use mixing ventilation, in which air conditioning systems try to stir room air as much as possible," Qingyan Chen, PhD, a Purdue University professor researching virus transmission through ventilation, previously told Best Life. "Thus, droplets in restaurants would be uniformly distributed. That is not a great scenario."
Chen says one of the only viable solutions would be doing a major "retrofit" of climate-controlled public spaces in order to make them safer to visit. Unfortunately, the safer "underfloor air distribution or displacement ventilation" are extremely costly and labor-intensive, making it a long shot solution for businesses—especially as most are strapped for cash.
Luckily, experts are far less wary of home units being as problematic. "Within a home, where everyone is highly exposed to each other, there isn't a need to worry about air conditioning," Manish Butte, PhD, an associate professor in the department of microbiology, immunology, and molecular genetics at the University of California, Los Angeles told Health. And if you want to be extra cautious, check out The No. 1 Way to Reduce Your Coronavirus Risk Indoors.