Can being in an air-conditioned area give you covid-19? Here’s the whole truth

As offices, malls, and restaurants open up thanks to Unlock 1.0, the one question on everyone’s lips is whether air conditioning can spread covid-19. Here’s what an expert has to say about that
AC and covid-19
It’s time to separate the myth from facts on this matter. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Sonakshi Kohli Published: 8 Jun 2020, 13:36 pm IST
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At the beginning of 2020 when we were probably enjoying a cold February here in India, covid-19 was engulfing China like a fierce fire in a forest—spreading from the city of Wuhan to the other parts of the country at the speed of light.

Amidst this chaos, a tragic case of covid-19 transmission dug its claws into three absolutely-unsuspecting family clusters, who, by an unfortunate stroke of fate happened to be dining in the same restaurant in Guangzhou, China, at the same time.

Within a few days, researchers at the Guangzhou Center for Disease Control and Prevention, claimed in a study that the air conditioning of the restaurant was the reason for the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus between these families. `

And so, began the panic around the use of air conditioners
Never the ones to give in to hearsay, we got in touch with Dr Rahul Bhargava, director and head, oncology and bone marrow transplant, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram to find out if there is any truth to this claim.

He says:

Air conditioning does not spread covid-19. So, one can use AC units at home safely.

Why the accusation on ACs then?
We read the research on the incident to find out the answer to this very confusing situation and thank God–we found it. Basically, the restaurant was a five-floor building—WITH NO WINDOWS. 

If you’re wondering why that is such a big deal, Dr Bhargava explained the reason: “In areas, where central air conditioning is used, the inside air keeps circulating and the temperature keeps dropping. This re-circulation of cool air is not healthy. The outside air should be allowed to come in as this improves the air-circulation rate.” 

Additionally, as per a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, when coronavirus gets suspended in droplets smaller than five micrometers, known as aerosols, it can stay suspended in the air for about a half-hour.

Coronavirus update
Try to avoid AC at your home especially if someone is showing covid-19 symptoms. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Hence, if droplets are released by an infected person in the air and the same air is in circulation in a particular room or area, the likelihood of transmission of covid-19 becomes very high.

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So, what should you do to stay safe in an airconditioned environment?According to Dr Bhargava, you must open the windows of the area slightly, even if the AC is on.

“Ideally, air conditioning should involve 25 circulations per hour, have a humidity aggregate of 60% to 70 %, and the air temperature inside should be 26 to 27 degrees. This can be achieved by opening the windows slightly to let the fresh air inside,” he says.

But what about offices which don’t have functional windows and use central ACs?
As offices, mall, and restaurants are slowly and steadily opening up as part of Unlock 1.0, the likelihood of being in a centrally-air conditioned place with lots of people is also increasing. So what can you do? 

For starters, avoid going to malls and restaurants. And even if you do, maintain social distancing, avoid touching your nose and mouth, and wash your hands regularly. As far as resuming work in the office is concerned, well if you cannot avoid it–then you must be careful. 

If there are windows that can be opened, ensure that they allow ventilation. Wear your face mask at all times and as always maintain social distancing. That’s the best you can do. 

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