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Air conditioners may be spreading coronavirus, experts say

Many air conditioning units recirculate some air that’s already been cooled since it’s cheaper, and upgrading air conditioning filters can help.

NEW ORLEANS — Experts have spoken a lot in recent months about how outside is a fairly low-risk place when it comes to the spread of COVID-19.

But with the feels-like temperatures in the lower 100s in some places Thursday, outside is really the last place people want to be.

The solution to that problem? Being inside with the air-conditioner running — but that could lead to another issue.

“The states … in June that are already using a lot of air-conditioning because of high temperatures are also the places where there’s been greater increases in the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. Ed Nardell, Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

He said the recirculating could be to blame.

“The same happens in wintertime when there’s more time indoors," he said.

Many air conditioning units recirculate some air that’s already been cooled since it’s cheaper than constantly bringing in fresh outdoor air to cool it down.

That’s led the Louisiana Fire Marshal’s Office to order changes to air-conditioning systems for some businesses as they reopen.

“Outdoors, we know, has been said to be much less risk for COVID transmission,” Nardell said. “I think that’s true.”

Nardell said there are ways to rework an air conditioning system — such as the way the Fire Marshal’s office is requiring — to help reduce the amount of recycled air. But that’s not common outside of hospitals.

There are also ultraviolet air disinfectors. That’s a century-old technology and has been used to kill germs in the air from diseases such as tuberculosis.

Experts also say upgrading air filters is another way to try to reduce the spread of COVID-19 indoors.

If none of those are possible, opening doors and windows helps.

Scientists agree that the idea of air conditioners helping to increase COVID cases in some states is still a working thesis.

One thing that they do agree on as a matter of fact: Keeping your distance from others is the best way to help stop COVID in its tracks.

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