Trust Index: Does AC spread coronavirus? Experts say not really

Health experts say air conditioning poses little threat of spreading COVID-19

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Your electricity bill is probably taking a chunk from your wallet as Florida heats up for a summer unlike what many are used to.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many are trying to salvage what they can of the summer vacation, some even venturing to recently reopened theme parks to beat the heat.

But with a highly contagious virus still among the Central Florida community, is it safe to stay indoors and enjoy the air conditioning?

Gov. Ron DeSantis held a news conference Friday where he posed doubt over the safety of air conditioning amid the pandemic.

“I think part of it may be, as it gets hotter, people are going to want to go indoors more and be in the air conditioning, and the air conditioning is not going to be your friend when it comes to ... the virus,” DeSantis said. “The virus can do much better in an enclosed air-conditioned space than they’re going to be doing in terms of outdoor activities, and so outdoors is your friend. The sunshine is your friend, the heat and humidity is your friend, so as you’re doing different things, please please keep that in mind.”

News 6 ran the governor’s claim through the Trust Index to determine if air conditioning furthers the spread of the coronavirus.

When it comes to staying inside to beat the heat of summer, emergency medicine physician Dr. Rajiv Bahl said there isn’t much concern among the medical community over air conditioning and the spread of COVID-19.

[RELATED: Trust Index: Can we count on summer heat to beat the COVID-19 pandemic?]

“Air conditioning units and the spread of COVID-19 is a complicated question, but to date, there have not been large concerns or reported cases of widespread transmission due to an air conditioning unit,” Bahl said. “The questions surrounding air conditioning units depend on the type of air being circulated. If there is only circulation of stagnant air, this could potentially rise concern for spread of viral illnesses. However, much of the AC units that we have throughout the United States use appropriate ventilation. This allows for transfer of air from the outside in and vice versa. By simply keeping a door or window open can help promote ventilation of homes and businesses.”

Bahl said that people have been going in and out of public locations such as grocery stores, pharmacies and other venues for quite some time, and because of good ventilation systems, to date, there have not been any major reports of infection related to a single AC unit source in the United States.

“There has been only one published and reported case in the world - a restaurant in Guangzhou, China,” Bahl said. “It was hypothesized that an air conditioning unit could have been a contributing factor (to the spread of COVID-19), however not all individuals at the restaurant were infected. There are many other variables to consider with that reported spread.”

Bahl referenced a case study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which detailed the outbreak of COVID-19 at a restaurant in China that involved three family clusters. According to the CDC, the AC unit in the restaurant created airflow direction that “was consistent with droplet transmission.” In response to the outbreak at the restaurant, the CDC recommended “increasing the distance between tables and improving ventilation.”

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Bahl said that air conditioning units are much less likely to pose any sort of health risk than neglecting to follow the CDC’s guidelines on preventing the spread of COVID-19.

“AC units keep locations cool and are great help in keeping comfortable during the summer months, however, there is no replacement for wearing masks, good hand hygiene and practicing social distancing,” Bahl said.

When it comes to reports of air-conditioned spaces spreading COVID-19, you should be careful, as only one instance of this occurring was reported by the CDC in China with many contributing variables.

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