Encouragingly, though, the virus did not spread far — the 73 other people who dined in the five-story restaurant that day and the eight employees working on the floor with the infected cases were all told to quarantine for 14 days, and none tested positive for COVID-19. That includes the people dining at nearby tables that were not directly in line with the air conditioner.
“To prevent the spread of the virus in restaurants, we recommend increasing the distance between tables and improving ventilation,” the researchers suggested.
The study, though, “has limitations,” they wrote. It was a small sample size, and they did not replicate the virus transmission in a lab or have a control study to compare it to. Still, the researchers said the data was sufficient to show that the air conditioning was the cause of virus transmission.
“We conclude that in this outbreak, droplet transmission was prompted by air-conditioned ventilation,” the authors wrote. “The key factor for infection was the direction of the airflow.”
And the research points to potential hazards in reopening restaurants, businesses and offices, experts said.
Dr. Harvey V. Fineberg, the head of the Standing Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and 21st Century Health Threats at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, told The New York Times that the study was “provocative and eye-opening.”
“It’s illuminating for the kind of thing we need to keep learning about as we try to configure safe work spaces,” he said. “Not just safe restaurant and entertainment venues but where you go to work.”
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