Is Your Air Conditioner Keeping You Safe From Covid?

Is Your Air Conditioner Keeping You Safe From Covid?

This article first appeared as a Bloomberg Opinion article. It can be read here.

It’s summertime in America, and while there may or may not be a baseball season, some things don’t change. Hamburgers are still getting grilled, trips to national parks are being plotted and air conditioners are cranked on full blast.

That last point is taking on new meaning as the country continues its reopening in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Even New York City — the region hardest hit by the pandemic and the last in the country to emerge from lockdown — is on track to allow people to interact again in non-essential indoor venues starting Monday. Barber shops, retail stores and offices will be able to reopen, with some restrictions and safeguards, and the HVAC systems that keep them cool and ventilated will come whirring back to life. Chances are you didn’t give much thought to those HVAC systems in the before-times, as long as they appeared to be working. Now, with a potentially deadly virus that spreads via airborne droplets still circulating around the country, you might be wondering, are air conditioners safe?

The short answer is yes, with the irritating caveat that it depends on the HVAC system and the circumstances of the space. The most tricked-out, sophisticated air-conditioner money can buy isn’t going to make much of a difference if people are packed in like sardines on a subway car or at a concert venue and an infected person starts coughing. But the presence of air conditioning likely doesn't in and of itself increase your risk of getting the coronavirus. In fact, combined with social distancing, personal hygiene and face masks, proper ventilation and humidity control are actually great tools for guarding against infection.
A typical air-conditioner system works by taking in a certain percentage of air from the outside and mixing it with air that’s recirculated from within the building. When you’re trying to combat a virus, you want more air to come in from the outside, where it’s unaffected by whatever sneezes or coughs may be happening in a certain corner of the office. But even the recirculated air gets passed through a filter before it’s spat out from one room to the next. The gold standard is a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter and the next best thing is a filter with a minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) of at least 13 (higher numbers are better), both of which are capable of capturing small particles such as viruses.

To continue reading the original article, please click here.

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