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Six Feet Not Far Enough Apart for COVID-19 Social Distancing

Author: Disabled World : Contact:

Published: 2020-04-06 : (Rev. 2020-05-16)


Article looks at examples of why social distancing should be a far greater distance than the recommended six feet currently advocated.

Key Points:

Main Digest

Studies, coupled with the high number of potentially asymptomatic people, has prompted the U.S. CDC to recommend that all Americans wear cloth masks in public. "There are micro-droplets and they can stay in the air for a while," said Dr. Scott Miscovich, with Hawaii's coronavirus task force.

Global experts in aerosol science are also sounding the alarm that current guidelines and regulations, which include the six-foot rule, may not be enough to keep people safe in public settings. Lydia Bourouiba, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor, contends that those recommendations may need to pushed another 20-plus feet.

A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) found that even the simple act of talking can produce hundreds of tiny droplets that have the potential to carry viruses and can remain in the air from 8 -14 minutes - (

Richard Corsi, a Portland State University dean, has also studied the spread of COVID-19 through both large and tiny droplets in the air and recommends people stay 20 feet away from each other when they’re outdoors. If an oncoming hiker coughs just before you pass, "you're probably walking through a cloud of viruses that stay suspended in air," Corsi said.

Germs that carry viruses can travel much farther by simply breathing or talking. And, if wind is blowing it can travel even greater distances and blow right to you. In addition, pathogens in, for example a sneeze cloud, could potentially reach air circulation systems inside buildings. There has been sampling done in air vents with positive detection of the virus.

"Aerosols - (micron-size droplets) - are different," says Dr. Stanley Deresinski, clinical professor of medicine and infectious diseases at Stanford University. "Very small particles may be suspended in the air for a long time, sometimes for hours. They're suspended by air currents."

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that under the right conditions, liquid droplets from sneezes, coughs and just exhaling can travel more than 26 feet - and linger in the air for minutes.

Cartoon figures of a man and woman holding a sign that says Stay at Home.
Cartoon figures of a man and woman holding a sign that says Stay at Home.

Hypothetical Examples of 6 Feet Rule Not Being Far Enough

The World Health Organization (WHO) say they have reviewed reports about transmission, and say more peer-reviewed tests are needed before they change their social distancing guidelines.

The only sure way to prevent yourself from getting infected by COVID-19 is by staying indoors and away from other people. Go out only as needed for essential trips to collect food and medicine, or brief exercise.

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