Is 6 Feet Of Social Distancing Enough? We Might Need 4 Times That Amount, MIT Researcher Finds

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Katie Jerkovich Entertainment Reporter
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During the coronavirus outbreak the rule for social distancing has included being six feet apart from another person, but new MIT research finds that we might need four times that amount.

“There’s an urgency in revising the guidelines currently being given by the WHO and the CDC on the needs for protective equipment, particularly for the frontline health care workers,” Lydia Bourouiba, an associate professor at MIT told USA TODAY in a piece published Tuesday. (RELATED: LIVE UPDATES: Here’s What Every State In America Is Doing To Combat The Spread Of The Coronavirus)

Bourouiba, who has researched the effects of exhalations, including coughs and sneezes, for years at The Fluid Dynamics of Disease Transmission Laboratory, found that these kinds of exhalations create gaseous clouds that can travel up to 27 feet. (RELATED: REPORT: Coachella Potentially Rescheduled To October Due To Coronavirus Fears)

Her research showed that the current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization might need to be updated because they use a method of “large droplets” as the method of transmission and that those large droplets can only go a certain distance during the pandemic.

As a result, we may need even more distance from infected people who are coughing or sneezing.

According to the report about her research amid the pandemic:

In a Journal of the American Medical Association article published last week, Bourouiba said peak exhalation speeds can reach 33 to 100 feet per second and “currently used surgical and N95 masks are not tested for these potential characteristics of respiratory emissions.”

The MIT professor said the idea that droplets, “hit a virtual wall and stop there and after that we are safe,” is just not accurate based on what her research has found and also not based on “evidence that we have about COVID transmission.”

“In terms of the fluid regime – how the exhalations are emitted – the key point that we have shown is that there’s a gaseous cloud that carries droplets of all sorts of sizes, not ‘large’ versus ‘small’ or ‘droplets’ versus ‘aerosols,” she added.

Dr. Paul Pottinger, an infectious disease professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine, said the real questions is how far can the coronavirus germ travel before “they’re no longer a threat.”

“For me, the question is not how far the germs can travel, but how far can they travel before they’re no longer a threat,” Pottinger shared. “The smaller the germ particles, the lower the risk that they might infect somebody who would breathe them in or get them stuck in their nose or their mouth.”

“The biggest threat – we think – with the coronavirus is actually the larger droplets,” he added. “Droplets of saliva, snot, spit. Droplets that almost look like rain, if you will, when someone sneezes. Those droplets are large enough that gravity still acts on them.”

Pottinger continued, “Usually, within about six feet of leaving somebody’s body, those larger, more infectious droplets will drop to the ground. That’s where the six-foot rule comes from.”