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VERIFY: Can an upgraded air cleaner stop COVID-19?

Some businesses and schools are investing in higher-quality HVAC filters and air cleaners to make building more COVID-safe. How effective are they?

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As businesses and schools explore ways to safely operate during the pandemic, many have moved towards better air cleaners and HVAC filtration. Health officials have said COVID-19 spreads more easily indoors, leading those unable to move outside to upgrade their systems.

The Question

Can air cleaners and HVAC filters stop the spread of COVID-19?

The Sources

  • The Environmental Protection Agency
  • Dr. Jane Kelly, Assistant State Epidemiologist with South Carolina's Department of Health and Environmental Control
  • Dr. Charles Bregier, Medical Director, Novant Health corporate and employee occupational health

The Answer

This is true.

Yes, air cleaners of a certain quality can work to stop the spread of COVID-19, but experts recommend that they function as just one of many layers of protection in a building.

"The idea is to really remove the air circulating around people as quickly as you can," Bregier said. "A very effective HVAC system that has good filters in it, that can filter out very small particles, does a really good job at removing COVID and other viruses and other contaminants."

According to the EPA, an air cleaner effective against viruses, including COVID-19, should remove airborne particles between 0.1 micrometer/micron (μm) in size and 1 micrometer.

The agency states there are different way manufacturers indicate this capability. A person should not only choose a system that filters the right particle size, they should also pick a unit that is the right size for the space.

Bregier says, for even more ventilation, a person could also open windows and doors, but be sure to avoid certain types of airflow.

"You don't want to have fans blowing in a room, where you're blowing air from one person onto another person," Bregier said.

Both Bregier and Kelly remind us that air filtration is just one of many important protective steps to take.

"Higher air quality filtration is a helpful measure, for sure," Kelly said. "But we cannot rely on that measure alone. Multiple mitigation strategies are needed. Vaccination for those aged 12 and up, wearing masks, maintaining physical distance between people, testing, isolation for those infected, quarantine for close contacts and increasing ventilation have to work together."

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