Coronavirus puts new focus on air conditioning

(NBC News) As restaurants and businesses reopen and schools prepare to welcome back students, a Centers for Disease Control study is raising concern over the role air conditioning systems may play in the spread of COVID-19.

The CDC study of a restaurant in China showed an association between the transmission of the virus and the airflow from the air conditioning system.

“It can be aerosolized, so it can travel in much much smaller droplets travel farther and stay in the air longer,” explains Perry Santanachote of Consumer Reports.

HEPA filters and UV light systems can sanitize the air, but the upgrades could be a burden on already cash-strapped businesses.

The adjustments can be expensive, and simply upgrading the filter can be counterproductive if there’s not enough power to move the air through it.

“It’s not just about changing a filter,” says Dave Regnery of Trane Technologies. “You may have to change a fan as well so you can have more pressure flowing through the air as you increase the filtration.”

Experts suggest choosing outdoor over indoor options when possible.

“We don’t want to see crowded bars or indoor spaces even though it’s comfortable, it’s cool…it’s dangerous in terms of re-breathed air,” warns Harvard Medical School Professor Edward Nardell.

HEPA filters are already used in the air filtration systems in most hospitals and airplanes.

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