VERIFY: Can air conditioners spread COVID-19?

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TYLER PALEY
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTOL) — We know human-to-human transmission is the main way COVID-19 is spread. But several viewers have asked about other ways.

As the weather gets warmer, you'll likely be cranking up your air conditioning inside your car or at home.

But could that be a dangerous move?

"What we really want to be doing now with coronavirus is actually drawing in more outside air," Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton said Tuesday. "So maybe taking the setting and making sure that you're not just recycling air in your house."

The claim that an HVAC system can spread the virus likely stems from a study out of China, which the CDC has posted on its website.

Essentially, it found there was a coronavirus outbreak at one Chinese restaurant. Ten of 83 customers inside tested positive after dining there and the research linked the restaurant's airflow to the spread of droplets.

This is where some doctors say we need to be careful. Yes, the transmission was linked to airflow, but that doesn't mean your AC is the perpetrator.

ProMedica Dr. Brian Kaminski said this is just one study and the only one with any merit across the world.

"Although you might make an argument that it's plausible, it's very, very unlikely," Kaminski said. "And if we were to get distracted by that and say, 'We need to start focusing on air conditioners right now,' we would lose that focus on the person-to-person transmission where the real differences are really made."

Even the Chinese study says "6 smear samples from the air conditioner ... were negative" and researchers "did not conduct an experimental study simulating the airborne transmission route."

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The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers even went a step further, saying, "Ventilation and filtration provided by heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems can reduce the airborne concentration of SARS-CoV-2."

Bottom line: one very specific and limited study links airflow with spreading the virus. But based on other information, it's highly unlikely your AC will give you COVID-19.