Researchers know that COVID-19 can be spread both by people who don’t show any symptoms and also those who are visibly sick. Health professionals also understand that the virus can spread to others by speaking, singing, coughing, sneezing, or simply breathing. This is why masks are so vital in preventing others, or yourself, from getting infected. However, one way the virus may be spreading could be something that’s everywhere: air conditioning.
11. Air Conditioning: The Good and the Bad
Although scientists have uncovered significant amounts of information about the SARS-CoV-2 virus (which causes the COVID-19 disease), there’s still much to be learned. Predicting how the disease will spread involves many factors, one of which is the environment outside the body. How aspects like heat, air, and humidity affect the virus remains mostly unknown. Scientists do understand that COVID-19 spreads more efficiently in cool, dry environments — the same kind of situation that air conditioning creates.
Though the hope was that the novel coronavirus would somehow fade in the summer warmth, the last month has proved the opposite. The hot summer weather has caused people to do the same thing that they do in the winter—congregate indoors. That same activity is one reason why the cold and flu and cold viruses spread in the winter. Staying indoors to enjoy the cold air conditioning may also be driving COVID-19 cases even higher, especially in southern states.
Air conditioning can protect people, especially vulnerable individuals like the elderly, from extreme heat. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) even advises people to seek shelter in “cool air-conditioned areas” during high-temperature weather. However, during the coronavirus pandemic, air conditioning is proving to be a double-edged sword. As vital as air conditioning is, it may be pushing the COVID-19 infection rate even higher.
10. AC and the Spread of COVID-19
Because the COVID-19 is such a new disease, air conditioning’s role in the spread of COVID still needs more research. A small study published in July reviewed the spread of COVID-19 within a restaurant with air conditioning. The customers who fell ill with COVID were sitting on the same side of the room. Infection patterns followed the airflow of a wall-mounted air conditioner in the restaurant.
At Oregon Health and Science University Hospital in Portland, Oregon, researchers swabbed various HVAC units to check for the virus that causes COVID-19. Their swabs found the virus in a quarter of the samples taken. The University of Nebraska Medical Center also did a similar test of air samples in air conditioned areas and found the virus more than six feet away from positive COVID patients. These findings are leading scientists to conclude that air conditioning units may be spreading the coronavirus. How could air conditioning be spreading a virus that the World Health Organization states is primarily not airborne?