Can the AC Spread COVID-19?

We are currently living in uncertain times under the pandemic of COVID-19, and many people are worried about the ways the virus can spread, including breathing it in, touching your face, and lasting on surfaces. In April of 2020, a study was published by the Center for Disease Control that showed that COVID-19 was spread through the air conditioning system of a restaurant in Guangzhou, China. However, there are admittedly a few problems with the study, including that a simulation study of the restaurant conditions was not conducted, as well as no serologic studies done on other diners or symptomatic family members.

The CDC recommended restaurants strengthen the temperature-monitoring surveillance and follow social distancing guidelines for dining in including ensuring tables are place six or more feet apart. Ventilation should also be improved as needed.

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What the Experts Say

Although the CDC reported that the COVID-19 virus was spread through a restaurant’s air conditioning system, many experts caution against a panic from believing the virus can be spread this way, especially as restaurants begin to reopen in some states. Businesses with modern air conditioning systems that are in proper working order are not at risk for spreading COVID-19 between patrons. There are many guidelines that experts are recommending, including offering outdoor seating and only allowing restaurants to work at 25% capacity. Outdoor transmission of COVID-19 is also less likely than climate-controlled indoor transmission, according to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

Dr. William Schaffner from Vanderbilt University Medical Center has also said that airborne transmission via air conditioning is unlikely as the report on the CDC website was based on a one-time occurrence. There have been no reported cases in the United States of transmission through a business air conditioning system, and Dr. Schaffner recommends focusing on the hygiene of staff members and wearing masks.

What is the Air Conditioning Industry Doing to Combat COVID-19?

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers has created a pandemic task force to study the data further in regards to COVID-19 and transmission via AC. Experts with ASHRAE have concluded that the reason why the restaurant in China was able to transmit via their AC possibly is that there were no windows or outdoor air supply. The exhaust fans in the air conditioning system were also not operating correctly.

Properly working AC units will have proper ventilation and filters to collect particulate matter. Nonetheless, ASHRAE still recommends restaurants open windows when possible and control airflow as well as following social distance guidelines.

If you’re worried about whether the air conditioning system in your restaurant is working correctly or not, call for a professional inspection.

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