In a move to counter a growing number of “false statements” regarding air conditioners, ASHRAE has announced that HVAC systems can help control the spread of the coronavirus.

The US-based global leader in HVACR research, standards and education, says it officially opposes advice not to run residential or commercial HVAC systems at this time.

ASHRAE says it intends to provide guidance on managing the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes #Covid-19 disease (coronavirus) with respect to the operation and maintenance of HVAC systems in buildings. It asserts that, in general, keeping air conditioners on during this time can help control the spread of the virus.

In a statement on the airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19, ASHRAE says: “Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 through the air is sufficiently likely that airborne exposure to the virus should be controlled. Changes to building operations, including the operation of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems, can reduce airborne exposures.”

A separate announcement on the operation of HVAC systems to reduce SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 transmission, ASHRAE states: “Ventilation and filtration provided by heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems can reduce the airborne concentration of SARS-CoV-2 and thus the risk of transmission through the air. Unconditioned spaces can cause thermal stress to people that may be directly life threatening and that may also lower resistance to infection. In general, disabling of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems is not a recommended measure to reduce the transmission of the virus.”

It adds that HVAC filters, along with other strategies, help to reduce virus transmission while removing other air contaminants that may have health effects. Overall, it does improve air quality.

Critical importance

“In light of the current global pandemic, it’s critically important that ASHRAE responds with guidance on mitigating the transmission of the virus, as well as ventilation and filtration recommendations,” said ASHRAE president Darryl K Boyce. “ASHRAE has a significant role to play in ensuring safe and healthy building environments and these statements offer the expert strategies needed at this time.”

ASHRAE’s environmental health committee has also developed an Emerging Issues Brief to support the two statements.

“There is great concern about the real possibility of transmission through the air of various pathogens, especially SARS-CoV-2, among staff and administration in healthcare facilities, office workers, retail workers and patrons, manufacturing workers, and residents in private and public facilities and the general public in outdoor settings and in public transportation.

“ASHRAE has created the Epidemic Task Force, comprised of leading experts to address the relationship between the spread of disease and HVAC in buildings during of the current pandemic and future epidemics. The ASHRAE environmental health committee’s position document committee also updated a Position Document on Infectious Aerosols.

“ASHRAE, working with its industry partners, is uniquely qualified to provide guidance on the design, operation, and maintenance of heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems to the Covid-19 pandemic as well as to prepare for future epidemics,” said ASHRAE epidemic task force chair, ASHRAE environmental health committee voting member and 2013-14 ASHRAE presidential member Bill Bahnfleth.

ASHRAE’s newly updated COVID-19 Resources webpage at ashrae.org/COVID19 has additional details.

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