The COVID-19 pandemic has engulfed the world in terror. With new speculations regarding the spread of the virus, it is hard to differ the fact from the rumour. The latest speculation is with air conditioning systems acting as an agent of spreading the COVID-19 virus. To understand this speculation, we must first understand its different aspects.
Why is this a speculation?
AC units that are in our houses primarily take the air inside, cool it down, pass it through a filter and then eject it back into our rooms. The speculation arises from the fact that the AC units in our houses might suck in the COVID-19 viruses from outside and infect the people inside.
Is the argument valid?
To make sense of this, we must first understand how the COVID-19 spreads. According to the WHO,”The disease can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth which are spread when a person with COVID-19 coughs or exhales. These droplets land on objects and surfaces around the person. Other people then catch COVID-19 by touching these objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. People can also catch COVID-19 if they breathe in droplets from a person with COVID-19 who coughs out or exhales droplets”.
As mentioned, the droplets do not remain suspended in the air hence cannot be transported via air making it non-airborne. AC units hence cannot spread the virus as no external air is introduced. Unlike popular belief, ACs do not suck in air from the outside rather they cool and re-circulate the inside air. This, however, is a problem for centrally air-conditioned places.
According to Sambuddha Chaudhuri, an epidemiologist at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay “ In places like centrally air-conditioned shopping centres etc, where there are usually a lot of people, the virus can get recycled in the air for a short span of time,”
A study by Centres of Disease Control and Prevention, found 10 people affected from 3 families by the COVID-19. The mode of infection was the droplets from an infected person being carried by the airflow of the air conditioner around the restaurant. The report said “droplet transmission was prompted by air-conditioned ventilation. The key factor for infection was the direction of the airflow. Of note, patient B3 was afebrile and 1% of the patients in this outbreak were asymptomatic, providing a potential source of outbreaks among the public (7,8). To prevent the spread of COVID-19 in restaurants, we recommend strengthening temperature-monitoring surveillance, increasing the distance between tables, and improving ventilation.”
Should you worry?
If you are home quarantined like most of us then no as your home AC units do not pose a threat, however, if you still visit places which are centrally cooled (unlikely due to the lockdown), you should be cautious and follow the safety protocols mentioned by medical institutions.