Available information on Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) transmission by small particle aerosols continues to evolve rapidly. To assess the potential role of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems in airborne viral transmission, this study sought to determine the viral presence, if any, on air handling units in a healthcare setting where Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) patients were being treated. The presence of SARS-CoV-2 RNA was detected in approximately 25% of samples taken from nine different locations in multiple air handlers. While samples were not evaluated for viral infectivity, the presence of viral RNA in air handlers raises the possibility that viral particles can enter and travel within the air handling system of a hospital, from room return air through high efficiency MERV-15 filters and into supply air ducts. Although no known transmission events were determined to be associated with these specimens, the findings suggest the potential for HVAC systems to facilitate transmission by environmental contamination via shared air volumes with locations remote from areas where infected persons reside. More work is needed to further evaluate the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission via HVAC systems and to verify effectiveness of building operations mitigation strategies for the protection of building occupants. These results are important within and outside of healthcare settings and may present a matter of some urgency for building operators of facilities that are not equipped with high-efficiency filtration.
Source: Patrick F Horve, Leslie Dietz, Mark Fretz, David A Constant, Andrew Wilkes, John M Townes, Robert G Martindale, William B Messer, Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg medRxiv 2020.06.26.20141085; doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.06.26.20141085
Additional source: Lu J, Gu J, Li K, et al. COVID-19 Outbreak Associated with Air Conditioning in Restaurant, Guangzhou, China, 2020. Emerging Infectious Diseases. 2020;26(7):1628-1631. doi: 10.3201/eid2607.200764