Could air conditioning spread coronavirus around a restaurant? What one study says – cleveland.com

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CLEVELAND, Ohio — A new study from China examining a coronavirus outbreak that infected 10 people from three families at a restaurant underscores the need for social distancing as the pandemic continues.

Researchers theorized that air conditioning could have a role in spreading the virus by creating air flows for respiratory droplets, but provided no evidence to back the theory.

As states begin to reopen, one big question is restaurants. Crowded venues could pose a greater threat for a virus that spreads through respiratory droplets in close human contact and on high-traffic surfaces.

According to the Ohio Restaurant Association, 51% of Ohio’s restaurants have closed. Owners believe they won’t be able to reopen again, or anticipate drastic decreases in restaurant capacity, according to previous cleveland.com reporting.

In the early release from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention’s Emerging Infectious Diseases journal, the families sat at tables about 3 feet apart, half the recommended social distancing measure.

The day the three families ate at the same, air conditioned restaurant, one patient went the hospital with a cough and fever. Less than two weeks later, the nine other patients had become ill. The other 73 customers at the restaurant that day did not show symptoms, and throat swabs tested negative for SARS-CoV-2.

Researchers concluded that after the initial exposure, members of each family could have given it to each other through proximity, but did not reach an answer as to why only members of those three families — not the entire restaurant — developed COVID-19.

Testing on the air conditioner provided a clue: the system did not suck up aerosols — tiny respiratory droplets — and distribute them. But researchers concluded that air flow in the restaurant could have played a role in how the virus traveled from family to family.

The air outlet and the return air inlet were positioned directly above the tables where one of the families was sitting, but it was not the table with the initial patient.

The study did not test the airflow route, or provide demographic information for any COVID-19 patients. It also did not provide underlying condition information for those patients which could have made them more vulnerable from exposure to SARS-CoV-2.

Researchers recommended strengthening temperature-monitoring surveillance, increasing the distance between tables, and improving ventilation to prevent spread in restaurants, as well as further study to explore interactions between droplet spread and air flow.

Source: Thanks https://www.cleveland.com/news/2020/04/could-air-conditioning-spread-coronavirus-around-a-restaurant-what-one-study-says.html