CADILLAC — Reports of air conditioning helping to spread COVID-19 in the southern states of the country started being reported a few weeks ago and it soon came into the national discussion.
The basic premise deals with recirculated air. If a person with COVID-19 is in a building with air conditioning they possibly could spread the virus to everyone in the building.
In late June, Edward Nardell, professor of medicine and global health and social medicine at Harvard Medical School and professor of environmental health and immunology and infectious diseases at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said summer temperatures can create situations similar to those in winter.
In these situations, illnesses can surge as people are forced indoors either from heat or cold. It is in these situations where people are breathing and rebreathing air that is recirculated.
Transmission of the COVID-19 virus is typically thought to be transmitted through large droplets expelled during coughing, sneezing, or talking, Nardell said evidence has risen to show some cases of COVID-19 occur via airborne transmission when virus particles contained in smaller droplets don’t settle out within 6 feet and instead hang in the air and drift on currents.
Airborne transmission is thought to have been a factor in the coronavirus’ spread among members of a Washington choir, through an apartment building in Hong Kong, and in a restaurant in Wuhan, China, Nardell said.
In Northern Michigan, the need for air conditioning is not as high as in the southern states, but it is still used. With winter on the horizon, soon temperatures will drop, snow will be flying and furnaces will be fired up, which also could contribute to the spread of the virus.
Cadillac Area Public Schools is in the process of updating all of its buildings after voters approved a bond in May 2018. The bond was designed to impact all buildings in the district with $65.5 million in renovations, additions, and upgrades spent over 25 years. Construction started last year.
CAPS Superintendent Jennifer Brown said as part of the construction process, the district is installing air filtration in each building that has needlepoint bipolar ionization. What that means, is the technology uses an electronic charge to create a plasma field filled with a high concentration of positive and negative ions. As these ions travel on the airstream they attach to particles, pathogens, and gases.
In laymen's terms, Brown said the system targets pathogens on surfaces and attacks and kills viruses, mold spores, and bacteria. It also helps to eliminate odors and reduces airborne particles such as dust and allergens.
"We are not naive thinking it will prevent COVID-19, but we are confident it will improve the air quality for our students. As we renovate our district with HVAC upgrades and systems through the community-supported bond project, this is something that we thought was the right time to do," she said.
While the air filtration system was part of the design for the new builds at the Franklin and Lincoln elementary buildings, half of Forest View Elementary and the Viking Learning Center, Brown also said all buildings housing students are getting the upgrades. She said all classrooms will have the air filtration at the start of school on Aug. 31.
"I'm excited. This isn't just a purchase for COVID, but our kids. It will help with the flu, odors, other viruses, and allergies," she said.
So if you can't get a filtration system to help improve air quality would sanitizing and/or disinfecting an HVAC system a viable option?
The National Air Duct Cleaners Association said currently no data is suggesting sanitizing ventilation systems will help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Numerous antimicrobials on the market have been approved for use in HVAC systems and HVAC ductwork. These could help treat HVAC systems if these products are used per the law and the instructions on the label and if these products are specifically stated by the manufacturer to be effective against COVID-19, according to the association.
However, the terms "sanitize" and "disinfect" are legal terms in the United States and other countries with specific meanings, according to the association. Not all antimicrobials approved for HVAC components can be claimed to "sanitize" or "disinfect."
For that reason, the association said it is important contractors performing cleaning services not make statements claiming disinfection, sanitization, or prevention of the spread of COVID-19, but rather that the cleaning has been performed and a particular product was applied per EPA-registered product label.