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Can coronavirus spread in shared air conditioner systems in apartments?

As the summer months roll in many are turning on their air conditioners.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Three families caught the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) while dining at a air-conditioned restaurant in Guangzhou, China between Jan. 26 and Feb. 10, 2020, according to a research letter from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers say the airflow direction was consistent with droplet transmission. 

Now people are wondering if they're at risk of exposure to the virus if they live in an apartment complex.

Dr. Dan Field, chief medical officer of MDstaffers in Rancho Cordova, said it is possible to become infected through a complex's ventilation system, but it is unlikely due to germ particles getting smaller and smaller as they travel through vents.

"You can imagine since it’s split up many times, that the amount of virus getting to the final person is going to be small,” he said. "If a person is in their apartment and they are breathing, coughing out, sneezing out particles, it has to travel through the air to the ventilation through the whole system. Through whatever filters are in the apartment and out through the inlet into somebody else’s apartment and infect them."

Dr. Field said to protect yourself from even the smallest germs, you can wear a mask while in your home, install UV light fixtures or purchase a HEPA filter.

“A HEPA filter is really good. It gets 99.7% of particles but only down to a certain size and the coronavirus is much smaller," he said. "So the conoravirus can get through the HEPA filter, but the big particles that the conoravirus is riding on can’t get through the filter."

Dr. Field also suggests turning off the AC if you can bear the heat. He said fresh air is the best way to keep the air clear of any coronavirus particles that may be floating around from your neighbors.

“Use your whole house fan, bringing outside air in, cleaning the whole house out and replacing all the internal air with good clean outside air,” Field said.

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