social distancing
Image: Flickr/Jernej Furman

Social Distancing Alone Cannot Protect from Coronavirus

Social distancing for coronavirus has been deemed a fundamental part of guidelines for the prevention of COVID-19 by all major health agencies around the world. Ideally, there should be at least six feet distance between people to minimize the risk of transmission of pathogens but there are many times this rule cannot be followed and in nearly all situations, it is not enough.

The six feet distance rule date backs to the 1800s, where a german scientist, Carl Flügge, proved that spread of a particular virus, bacteria, or other infectious pathogens is possible through droplets released into the air via coughing, sneezing, and other activities.

So, it was stated that staying at a distance apart can reduce the risk of catching any pathogen as the droplets containing them cannot travel after a certain point. At the moment, the need for following this rule has become important again due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

However, health experts are saying that social distancing is not enough for the prevention of coronavirus infection most of the time. This does not mean people should stop following the guidelines and not practice the rule but that it alone cannot work, especially with a pathogen like SARS-CoV-2.

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Avoiding close contact and staying at a distance can indeed make a difference and is one of the fundamental ways which have to be followed to contain the overall health crisis but it should be noted that doing it only does not actually guarantee safety.

There are many factors that can impact how far the novel coronavirus or any pathogen can travel and infect another person, according to a new study which has been published recently in the British Medical Journal. Six feet cannot be a standard anymore as many infectious pathogens can travel beyond it.

The leading investigator of the study and the director of the Fluid Dynamics of Disease Transmission Laboratory at MIT, Lydia Bourouiba, specifically points out that previous research from the 1990s on the six feet distance rule already found that pathogens are able to travel farther distances depending on many factors.

For instance, smaller particles usually stay in the air for a longer time and can also cover longer distances. In addition, lower humidity levels can help even large particles stay in the air and other factors such as wind and dust particles can also affect the time a particle will stay in the air.

A study on the coronavirus has also concluded that the virus can actually travel up to thirteen feet. Similarly, another paper found that the virus was present in more than single ventilators in a hospital room accomodating a single coronavirus patient.

The new research suggests setting a new standard for social distancing and provides a proper guideline that highlights the distance that needs to be maintained in accordance with the situation or place as well as the risk of coronavirus transmission.

One thing the team emphasized was how the six feet rule can indeed be highly effective in some places if people do not remove masks. Masks are known to protect from the virus and even minimize the risk of spreading it to other people, which is why wearing them is equally important along with social distancing.