Air conditioning, airplanes and COVID-19: what we know about SARS-CoV-2 and ventilation

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Brian Adam
Professional Blogger, V logger, traveler and explorer of new horizons.

Air conditioning, airplanes and COVID-19: what we know about SARS-CoV-2 and ventilation

In the heat of the heat wave, the COVID-19 pandemic is still in full swing. The concern could make us look suspiciously towards the air conditioner but, Are there reasons for this? Is SARS-CoV-2 transmitted through ventilation?

Immersed in the debate of whether the coronavirus is transmitted through the air or only by droplets, this question is especially relevant in these hot months, as it will be in the colder ones. This is what we know about it.

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Is SARS-CoV-2 transmitted through air conditioning?

If we ask the WHO, it will reply that there is no evidence that the coronavirus can be “absorbed” by an appliance and dispersed by a current of air. That does not mean that it cannot be pushed, although there is not much evidence about it either. However, there is a case, which is serving to question many of the knowledge we have.

Said case is that of a restaurant in Guangzhou in which two people infected, in January of this year, three other families who were in the path of the air conditioner. However, they did not infect anyone else. This example has served to make many experts demand to rethink the concepts of air transmission and how the SARS-CoV-2 fits into all this.

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For the time being, the WHO recommends good ventilation and regular maintenance (cleaning). Industrial systems undergo periodic checks and maintenance, but personnel can also be sanitized. Although there is no evidence of transmission of the virus through these air conditioning systems, The WHO is also very clear and warns that caution is necessary, especially when sharing rooms.

However, for the moment, there is nothing else. SARS-CoV-2 is not filtered by any organism, nor the WHO itself, (the fact is that they can stop particles smaller than 100 nm from the virus).

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The toilet is also prepared to “remove” all potentially harmful air by suction. In addition to all of the above, airplanes have quite complicated air renewal systems, in which an engine air bypass is used. This is compressed, mixed, heated and any traces of impurities are eliminated by means of the filters, also taking away moisture.

The danger from aircraft, however, could be found in the possibility that aerosols are kept in the cabin, with viral load, although the air flow would help to prevent this from happening, so only surfaces would be truly dangerous. At the moment, there is no concrete evidence on the coronavirus either, although it is quite likely that planes are among the safest means of travel.

Precautions and prevention to avoid unnecessary risks

How are we going to prevent infections if we are not able to fully understand transmission? In the face of uncertainty, the best (or only thing) we can do is to maintain good prevention practices that avoid danger. Thus, gathering some of the recommendations and interpretations about what we know to date, we can say:

  • It is essential keep social distance. This is especially so if there is a moving air flow. In such a case, it is crucial to maintain the mask and caution when touching things or touching ourselves.
  • Better to use direct ventilation than using air conditioning, whenever possible. Unless the air has a special filter (something that is not normal), an external air flow is safer. Firstly, because it will be clean air, since it is almost impossible for aerosols to enter from the street. Secondly, because suspended droplets usually endure less time with heat, evaporating earlier.
  • In the case of air conditioning, it is convenient, as the WHO warned, keep proper hygiene, which involves changing the filters and cleaning the ducts.
  • It is convenient dispense with centralized systems, using independent air conditioning, so that, in case of transmission, it does not reach everywhere.
  • Finally, in case it is possible to choose, it is better to use air conditioning with renovation, avoiding recirculation (like in a car, for example), so that we make sure that the virus does not recirculate along with the air.

Images | Unsplash