A recent study suggests air conditioning systems could play a role in spreading the coronavirus.

The study looks at a woman in China who dined at a restaurant days before she showed COVID-19 symptoms. “We conclude that in this outbreak, droplet transmission was prompted by air-conditioned ventilation,” the researchers wrote.

That outbreak illustrates some of the challenges that restaurants will face when they try to reopen. Ventilation systems can create complex patterns of airflow and keep viruses aloft, so simply spacing tables six feet apart — the minimum distance that the C.D.C. advises you keep from other people — may not be sufficient to safeguard restaurant patrons.

The scientists noted that “aerosolized droplets can remain in the air and travel long distances” of more than one meter, but acknowledged that in this instance, the transmission of the virus can’t be explained by droplet transmission. A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested the coronavirus can travel as far as 13 feet in the air.

Some systems recirculate the air but don’t bring in fresh air or provide filtration. Called splits, these air conditioners are popular because of their energy efficiency.

As states prepare for phased reopening, business owners should consider taking steps to ensure that the air in their facilities is clean and free of pathogens. This starts with making sure that air conditioning systems are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected prior to reopening. Contact QAC to learn how we can help.