When the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, a lot of people were hoping the summer months would bring relief. Not only is the virus still on the rise through the summer heat, the widespread use of air conditioners during the hottest months has become a bigger concern.
How much of a threat air conditioners are for coronavirus spread is yet unknown. Summer 2020 finds various experts weighing in on the chances and their suggested precautions.
What the HVAC Experts Are Saying
The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) released a statement about coronavirus spread relating to ventilation systems. ASHREA recommended changes to building operations that could reduce exposure to airborne viruses, rather than shutting air conditioning down entirely.
The advice from Europe’s Federation of European Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Associations (REHVA) leans toward completely avoiding “central recirculation during SARS-CoV-2 episodes.” REHVA feels the risk of recirculation systems in the presence of COVID-19 outbreaks isn’t worth the cooler temps. “In case this leads to problems with cooling or heating capacity, this has to be accepted because it is more important to prevent contamination and protect public health than to guarantee thermal comfort.”
What the HVAC Experts Recommend
Some precautions ASHRAE recommends include flushing out ventilation systems two hours before and after people occupy a store, gym, or restaurant. That includes exhaust fans and outside dampers. All areas considered high-touch should be regularly cleaned and disinfected.
REHVA recommends that all buildings (even those with air conditioning) practice regular use of window ventilation, in spite of the summer heat.
Are Businesses Adding Ventilation Precautions?
As more businesses like restaurants and gyms open back up, so do concerns about more coronavirus spread. Are those businesses considering their air conditioning systems as a concern for patrons?
Restaurants seem to be taking it more seriously than most. As reported by the Washington Post, some restaurants claim to be upgrading their filtration systems, but the effort might not add up to better virus protection.
Eating outside and at least six feet away from other people seems to still be the best way to approach restaurant dining. Especially since it’s difficult to keep a face mask in place while eating.
Air Circulating to and from Outside Is Ideal
What most ventilation and medical experts agree on is that buildings are safer with air circulating through windows. Opening as many windows as possible creates the kind of air flow that could carry coronavirus droplets away from people, if positioned properly in the room.
Air conditioners that can bring in air from outside at least part of the time are also ideal. Repeatedly recirculating indoor air inside a closed building seems to be where the risk of coronavirus spread goes up.
Poor Ventilation Is a Significant Health Risk
Whether using an air conditioner or not, proper ventilation is essential in all situations for optimal health. A room or building with poor ventilation could be an even bigger risk of coronavirus infection than air conditioning.
Rooms that remain unventilated for long periods of time could prevent the virus from dissipating. The respiratory droplets of COVID-19 have shown to linger in the air for much longer in a room with poor ventilation.
Some Extra Heat Might Help
Though coronavirus cases are still rising in different parts of the world in the hot summer months, research still points to heat being preferable to cold. Hotter temperatures more likely have a negative effect on a virus’s ability to grow. For that reason, very cold temperatures brought on by low and constant air conditioning could make coronavirus harder to eliminate from a building.
Working to keep the thermostat in rooms and buildings between 70 to 75 degrees could help maintain a safer environment. This could be accomplished with a mix of window, fan and air conditioner ventilation. Virus protection also depends on people social distancing at all times, no matter the temperature in the room.
All Experts Agree Social Distancing Is Key
HVAC and medical experts have differing opinions about the safety (or lack thereof) regarding air conditioning risks. What they don’t argue about is the practice of social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.
As you move out in the world, you’ll likely practice more precautions if you think of the people around you as already infected. That way you’re more likely to wear a face mask, stay at least six feet away from others, and consistently wash your hands.
If you find yourself in a busy building with poor ventilation? Think twice before spending any time there during a virus outbreak, unless the ventilation can be immediately improved.