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COVID-19: The CON of an Air-CONditioner


Overview

As more and more businesses begin to reopen after the passing of different legislation by several states, it is imperative for the general public to continue to keep themselves aware of the ever-changing COVID-19 climate. The reopening of salons and barbershops, for example, are allowing more individuals and families to interact; the situation with restaurants is no different. However, the findings outlined in a research letter from an Early Release article of the Emerging Infectious Diseases magazine regarding a restaurant in Guangzhou, China have the ability to change the eagerness of many businesses to reopen.


A family traveled from Wuhan to Guangzhou, China and decided to eat at a restaurant. One of the family members had the coronavirus but was not aware as they did not feel any of the COVID-19 symptoms such as a cough and fever. After a few days, other family members who sat at the same table began to show symptoms associated with COVID-19. Remarkably, however, individuals who sat at tables immediately to the right and left of the table of the family from Wuhan also began to show symptoms of COVID-19 within two weeks. Researchers outlined in the letter that the first family member who asymptomatically carried COVID-19 from Wuhan to Guangzhou was the individual that ended up passing on the virus to many people. More importantly, individuals who sat at any other table did not find themselves with coronavirus-caused symptoms. It was as if there was a “hot-spot.”


One is likely inclined to ask how this is possible. The surprising answer is air-conditioner (AC). The air from the unit circulated around the room but mainly flowed outwardly in the direction of the three aforementioned tables. The terrifying takeaway is as follows: the coronavirus can likely traverse through the air and pose an even greater threat in many outdoor environments.


Brief Critique and Future Directions

The overall study, which included the amalgamation of 10 different studies, has been deemed to be ethical by the Guangzhou Center for Disease Control and Prevention. However, because the study relies quite heavily on observations in a non-controlled environment, unlike an experiment, there is a high likelihood of confounding variables. Regardless, this makes it clear COVID-19 can be spread not just through close contact as it was believed at the beginning of the pandemic.


The abstract of the study has already clearly stated that it is in the best interest of restaurants to “[increase] the distance between tables and improving ventilation” in order to better contain the spread of the virus in their buildings (Lu et al., 2020). In regards to the future, there are several different paths that could be taken in regards to learning more about this phenomenon. The study clearly explains that large respiratory droplets typically can only travel for a short amount of time but can likely be propelled by a machine like an AC. Would the situation be any different if it involved a fan, for example? Additionally, the setting of the study was a restaurant. Would the situation be any different if it was not in a building and the propelling force was simply the wind? With an increase in the reopening of parks and beaches, and thus the number of people traveling to such locales, clarification on such questions would be quite helpful and are thus necessary.


Article Reviewed

Lu J, Gu J, Li K, Xu C, Su W, Lai Z, et al. COVID-19 outbreak associated with air conditioning in restaurant, Guangzhou, China, 2020. Emerg Infect Dis. 2020 May 30. https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.200764


References

“How Coronavirus Spreads Outdoors vs. Indoors.” YouTube, Vox, 28 May 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=n6QwnzbRUyA.

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