New Study Shows That Restaurant Ventilation Systems May Actually Increase Spread Of Coronavirus

by Gizel Menezes
New Study Shows That Restaurant Ventilation Systems May Actually Increase Spread Of Coronavirus

Are you among those who can’t stop dreaming about the day post lockdown when you can rush to your favorite restaurant to have a hearty feel-good meal? Well, think again! According to a new Chinese study, ventilation systems in restaurants have complex patterns of airflow, which help viruses in the air to keep afloat, leaving you susceptible to the disease. Scary, right? Read on.

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What Does The Study Say?

On January 24, a family that had left Wuhan before it went into complete lockdown, was dining at a restaurant in Guangzhou, a sprawling metropolis in southern China. Unknowingly, one of them was already infected by the disease. Days later, nine others who dined at the same restaurant started showing symptoms of the coronavirus.

While all five members of the family (designated as Family A) appeared healthy while dining, one of them, a 63-year-old woman, experienced some symptoms later in the day. Hospital tests confirmed that she was positive for the coronavirus.

Within two weeks, 9 others who ate lunch at the same restaurant that day also tested positive. Four were relatives of the first infected woman, who dined with her. But for the other five, the restaurant appears to have been the source of the virus.

This incident has been described by Chinese researchers in a paper that is to be published in the July issue of the Emerging Infectious Diseases, a journal published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Image Courtesy: New York Times

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According to the researchers, the virus from the infected lady traveled through the air conditioner duct at the restaurant and infected 5 people from two other families (designated as Family B and Family C), both sitting in the vicinity of Family A.

An air conditioner placed above Family C’s table blew air over the three tables in a southward direction where it hit the wall and returned. As coronavirus had not spread beyond Wuhan in January, researchers believe Family A from Wuhan spread the virus to the other two families.

The study also hints that the coronavirus is primarily transmitted through larger respiratory droplets, which fall out of the air more quickly than smaller droplets known as aerosols, which can float for hours. This is because all of the people who became sick at the restaurant in China were either at the same table as the infected person or at one of two neighboring tables. None of the other 73 diners or employees were infected.

This Study Could Change The Nature Of Dining And Work Places In The Post-Corona World

According to the New York Times report, this eye-opening case, along with other cases, will likely change dining patterns and the practice of eating out in the post-pandemic world.

Dr. Harvey V. Fineberg, who leads the Standing Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and 21st Century Health Threats at the National Academies of Sciences, says, “restaurants should be mindful of the direction of airflow in arranging tables. Germicidal ultraviolet lights could also be installed to destroy floating virus particles.”

Dr. Harvey also says that the paper’s findings could have implications beyond restaurants as many workplaces too have similar ventilation systems. “It’s illuminating for the kind of things we need to keep learning about as we try to configure safe workspaces, not just safe restaurants and entertainment venues but where you go to work,” he says.

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