Can Air Conditioners Spread COVID-19?

Jun 11, 2021

There is no doubt that as summer arrives in the Tri-Cities, there will be mass turning on air conditioners to battle the desert heat. We count on our AC systems to help us combat the heat and keep us cool and comfortable in our homes and offices.  But there is some question about whether air conditioners can spread the COVID-19 virus, caused by the coronavirus, which is a respiratory airborne illness. 

Based on the medical and environmental data available, there doesn’t seem to be any definitive answer about the link between air conditioners and the spread of COVID-19. In general, this topic is still undergoing research. 

What has been shown to be true is that the coronavirus is much more likely to be spread among people indoors than in outdoor gatherings. 

How Strong is Link Between COVID-19 and Air Conditioners?

Much of the debate of whether air conditioners can transmit COVID-19 hinges on how the virus is transmitted. Virologists and doctors, in general, are still exploring the ways this deadly and highly transmittable virus spreads and how it does so in different settings. 

The most common method of viral dissemination is droplet transmission. This occurs when a virus-filled particle of breath or spittle comes out of the nose or mouth of an infected individual when they breathe, speak, cough or sneeze. These droplets typically disperse within a few feet of the person who expels them. They can transmit the virus if they come into contact with someone’s eyes, nose, or mouth. 

Another form of viral spread is aerosol transmission, which is relevant to air conditioners. This happens when an infected person expels microscopic infectious particles so minute that they remain in the air and spread from person to person in air currents. Because they are considerably smaller than droplets, aerosols are able to travel greater distances and get deep into the lungs of someone who inhales them. 

There is an ongoing debate about the degree to which aerosol transmission causes infection. It is accepted in medical science that it does happen, and particularly in closed-door settings, such as homes, offices, etc. This raises the possibility of air conditioning systems being a source of transmission. The means of circulating the virus via air conditioning occurs by virus particles being breathed out by an infected person and then blowing those infectious particles back out in the same room or even another room several floors away. 

However, medical experts and researchers acknowledge that there has been very limited research delving into the role of HVAC systems, air conditioners, and the spread of COVID-19.

“There is nothing inherently wrong about air conditioning; it’s just when it’s done poorly that it’s a problem,” says Joseph Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessment science at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Risk of Air Conditioners Spreading COVID-19

Operating your air conditioner at home should not be an issue, especially if you are sharing space with the same people you are normally with and exposed to the whole time. The exception to this is if you host gatherings with other people inside your home, especially if they are not taking safety precautions such as wearing masks or staying three to six feet apart. 

Running your air conditioner can potentially save your life during hot weather by preventing heat stroke or other heat-related illnesses. In fact, air conditioning is the number one protective factor against heat-related illness and death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

If you want to enhance the quality of your indoor air, you can take measures involving your AC system. For example, you can replace the filters in your HVAC unit. It is recommended you upgrade to a MERV 13 filter, which removes a large proportion of particles from the air, including droplets and aerosols. If your AC system doesn’t accept a MERV 13, then obtain the highest quality filter it can handle. 

Ventilation is Key to Preventing Spread of COVID-19 Indoors

In the summer as temperatures rise and people seek indoor treated air for relief, there is a greater potential for COVID-19 transmission. As people are enjoying the air-conditioned comfort of their homes, they might gather with friends and others who aren’t regular inhabitants of the home. When you are indoors, there tends to be less ventilation and more opportunity to spread disease. 

“It’s not the air conditioner that is doing anything particularly,” says Edward Nardell, a professor of environmental health and immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard Medical School. “It is the fact that you are indoors, you are not socially distancing and you are rebreathing the air that people have just exhaled.” 

When we are inside escaping the oppressive summer heat, our inclination is to shut doors and windows to keep the cool air inside. This eliminates the flow of fresh air. This means everyone is breathing and rebreathing the same air. When you have someone present in your home who is infected with COVID-19, they are breathing out the virus, which can linger in airborne droplets and be inhaled by another person, which can cause infection. 

This is why it is recommended to find some way to keep fresh air circulating inside to disperse the air and make it harder for potentially infected air droplets to travel to other people. 

“I would say keep the windows open and talk to your employers about whether they’re looking into air filtration systems that are able to filter a wide range of particles,” says Abraar Karan, a physician and global health researcher at Harvard Medical School.

Look to Apollo Heating and Air Conditioning for Expert Maintenance of Your HVAC

Look to the HVAC experts at Apollo to ensure your energy system is in excellent condition and operating at optimal efficiency so you can stay cool and comfortable this summer.  Our experienced team of highly trained technicians will work with you and exceed your expectations during HVAC  repairs and A/C unit replacements.   

Apollo field technicians will work closely with you in deciding what HVAC system is the best, and tailor it to fit your unique needs and personal preferences!  We are committed to delivering premium quality HVAC service, maintenance, products, and documentation in Kennewick, Pasco, Richland, and beyond! 

Learn more by contacting Apollo Heating and Air Conditioning! Call us at (509) 396-COLD (2653).