Can Air Conditioning Spread COVID-19?
Amidst all the fear and confusion, widespread panic has caused a number of allegations to circle the internet, one of them being coronavirus is transmittable through air conditioning.
This claim holds about the same merit as the random ‘self-proclaimed health professional’ Facebook user who’s spewing just about anything they can to incite panic.
Let’s get one thing straight. Based on current findings at the time of writing this article (March 24, 2020), there have been no cases or no connection between air conditioners and the spreading of the Coronavirus.
Note: It’s important to keep in mind that as the situation is evolving all the advice and prevention methods mentioned below are subjected to change and that everyone should monitor the Australian Government – Department of Health website for the latest updates in relation to the spread and clinical management of the disease.
According to The Department of Health, WA, COVID-19 is spread from person-to-person interaction. This happens when a person comes into contact with the respiratory secretions of an infected person through coughing or sneezing.
It requires close contact with people coming face-to-face with a person who has the virus for at least 15 minutes, or been in the same closed space for at least 2 hours with an infected person.
Technically speaking, the only way for an air conditioner to spread the virus is if someone was shouting and speaking and producing water droplets, which are generally heavy and would not travel far enough, to enter ventilation systems or air conditioning units.
With this in mind, recent notes by The Australian Institute of Refrigeration and Air Conditioning explore that the virus may interact with AC systems and that steps should be taken to reduce it’s spread.
A representative from A.G. Coombs Advisory mentioned that large droplets are normally too large to remain suspended in the air and usually fall and land on surfaces. In some instances, fluid can evaporate and the large droplets can transform into smaller particles, which can remain suspended in the air. This is then thought to then enter AC systems.
However, as of 17/03/2020 according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) —
“NO infectious virus related to COVID-19 has been captured or recovered in air sampling. This would need to occur to demonstrate and confirm if the virus was an airborne type which was easily transmitted throughout AC systems”.
In other words, Coronavirus currently at this moment in time is NOT spreadable through your air conditioning system.
That said, the necessary prevention methods MUST be taken to reduce the likelihood of the virus spreading.
How to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace
To ensure the safety of all, strict measures have been put in place by the government to prevent the spread of the devastating virus in workplaces.
You can access all the measures in the workplace recommended by the Department of Health here.
For air conditioning in particular, SafeWork NSW has provided clear advice and guidance on how building managers should be addressing their AC units in relation to Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and managing the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Inspect ventilation and air conditioning systems
Employers should seek confirmation from their building owner that the air conditioning system is properly designed and maintained:
- Further information is outlined in the Australian Standard AS 1668.2-2012. The use of ventilation and air conditioning in buildings, Part 2: Mechanical ventilation in buildings
- All internal spaces should be well ventilated and if possible, fresh air should be allowed to flow.
- At this stage, for offices and similar environments, there is no recommendation to install special air filters to air conditioning systems.
- Regular cleaning and disinfection is crucial to minimising the risk to all room occupants to the exposure of harmful pathogens.
For HVAC systems
The risk of a regularly and well-maintained HVAC system in large commercial settings causing the transmission of Coronavirus are extremely low, based on the information mentioned above.
For all HVAC systems, there are a set of precautionary measures that all building managers, owners and operators must take to further reduce the risk, as of 18/03/2020 per advisory note by A.G Coombs, HVAC and COVID-19.
- Preventative maintenance must be carried out by recognised standards and maintenance procedures, which includes –
- Building owners, managers and operators getting in contact with service providers and making sure prevention methods are put in place.
- HVAC systems are properly commissioned and operating correctly.
- Internal humidity must be maintained within the range of 40-60% relative humidity.
- Audit of AC system filtration system, general cleanliness and current air filtration type. Replacing filters to F7- F9 grade in relation to fan capacity limitations.
- Regular cleaning and disinfection of the system. Includes changing air filters, cooling and heating coil surfaces cleaned and disinfected, as well as induction units and chilled beams.
General office sanitisation and prevention methods as per the Australian Government, are the necessary steps all employers and building managers in commercial settings should be practicing in the workplace effective immediately:
- Stay at home if you’re sick
- Stop handshaking as a greeting
- Hold meetings via video conference or phone call
- Defer large meetings
- Hold essential meetings outside in the open air if possible
- Promote good hand and sneeze/cough hygiene and provide hand sanitisers for all staff and workers
- Avoid touching your face
- Take lunch at your desk or outside rather than in the lunchroom
- Clean and disinfect high touch surfaces regularly such as tables, drawers, cabinets, door handles and keyboards, mouse and monitors
- Consider opening windows and adjusting air conditioning for more ventilation
- Limit food handling and sharing of food in the workplace
- Reconsider non-essential business travel
- Promote the strictest hygiene among food prep staff and their close contacts
- Consider if large gatherings can be rescheduled, staggered or cancelled
What you can do at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19
As of 15/03/2020, The Health Department have issued a number of steps to help reduce the spread of germs at home:
- As mentioned above, practise good hand and sneeze/cough hygiene
- Avoid handshaking and kissing
- Avoid touching your face
- Regularly disinfect high touch surfaces, such as tables, kitchens benches, toilet buttons, doorknobs, TV remotes, keyboards, mouse and monitors, as well as vehicle steering wheels, handbrakes, gear sticks and handles
- Increase ventilation in the home by opening windows or adjusting air conditioning
- Visit shops sparingly and buy more goods and services online
- Consider whether outings and travel, both individually and family, are sensible and necessary
For households where people are ill (including the safety measures above)
- Care for a sick person in a single room if possible
- Keep the number of carers to a minimum
- Keep the door to the sick person’s room closed and, if possible, a window open
- Both the sick person and the people caring for them should wear a surgical mask when they are in the same room
- Protect other vulnerable family members, such as people over 65 years or people with a chronic illness, including, if practicable, finding alternative accommodation
For air conditioning systems at home
Air filters help circulate clean air through your heating and cooling systems at home by trapping dirt, dust, allergens and other pollutants such as pollen and bacteria.
If left unchecked for prolonged periods of time, they start to get clogged and collect moisture, resulting in the growth of mould. This is then circulated into the air you breathe.
For this reason, it’s highly important, especially in a time of the deadly COVID-19, to regularly clean your air conditioner and air filters to maintain healthier air quality.
Find out how to clean your air filters with our Complete Guide on How to Clean Air Conditioning Filters.
At All Air Services we have taken measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 so you feel when you’re in need of our services.
For the latest information and resources on coronavirus, please refer to go to www.health.gov.au