Social distancing of 1 meter (3 feet) is probably not enough…

Social distancing of 1 meter (3 feet) is probably not enough…

Last Reviewed : 12/16/2020
Social distancing of 1 meter (3 feet) is probably not enough…

Social distancing is one of the key preventive measures of COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing is recommended as the droplets from coughs and sneezes typically do not travel beyond that distance to infect other people. World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 3 feet or 1 meter of social distancing and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 6 feet of 2 meters of social distancing. In this article, we review what distance is appropriate to prevent the spread of coronavirus infection as there is some discrepancy in the recommendations.

According to a study recently published in JAMA, small droplets from coughs and sneezes may travel up to 7-8 meters. However, it was not studied if these small droplets have the capacity to infect healthy individuals. Multiple studies have shown that when an infected person coughs or sneezes, respiratory viruses like influenza may be present in small aerosol particles in the air in close proximity to the infected person. One study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, infectious amounts of influenza virus was detected up to 6 feet from the patients. Beyond 6 feet, droplets do not have enough viral load to be infectious. So far, there are no studies that detected influenza or other respiratory viruses in an infectious amount beyond six feet from the affected person.

Based on these studies, it is prudent to maintain social distancing of at least two meters or six feet, as recommended by CDC. One meter or three feet may not be sufficient to prevent infection spreading to other people. If the caregiver is getting closer to the infected person to less than six feet, he or she should wear a mask.



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  2. Lindsley WG et al. Measurements of airborne influenza virus in aerosol particles from human coughs. PLoS One. 2010 Nov 30;5(11):e15100. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0015100.
  3. Lindsley WG et al. Quantity and size distribution of cough-generated aerosol particles produced by influenza patients during and after illness. J Occup Environ Hyg. 2012;9(7):443-9. doi: 10.1080/15459624.2012.684582.
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