The Effectiveness of Physical Distancing: Is 1-meter distance enough?

The Effectiveness of Physical Distancing: Is 1-meter distance enough?

Summary

  • According to WHO, everyone should maintain a 1-meter (3 feet) distance, and the CDC has said to keep a 6 feet distance to avoid the contact of small liquid droplets of the virus.
  • Emerging evidence from various studies across the globe indicates that the virus particles can spread over much greater distances, and researchers are suggesting increasing the distance provided in the guidelines.
  • Covering one’s face with a facemask can lower the chances of transmission through aerosol particles, and the risk of large droplets can be avoided by social distancing.

Many countries across the globe are back in action to recover the economic loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now the billion-dollar question arising concerning social distancing measures is what is the minimum gap one should follow that falls under ‘safe distance’?

With the easing of lockdown restrictions, it has become imperative to be conscious of all the precautionary methods. As WHO stated earlier, coronavirus pandemic might be with us for a long time. At present, there is no proven vaccine to combat this infection. So, everyone needs to follow precautions to stay safe until a vaccine against this deadly virus is developed and available for individuals.

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Let us delve deep and discuss if social distancing certainly works for preventing the spread of coronavirus.

It is a fact that SARS-CoV-2 virus, the causative agent of COVID-19, can transmit through infectious droplets which spreads when an infected person coughs, sneezes or even breathes. To prevent this, doctors and researchers across the globe recommended maintaining social distance from each other. Physical distancing eventually results in reducing the spread, morbidity, and mortality due to the infection. However, some researchers believe what is being done is not enough to prevent the infection.

After the COVID-19 outbreak became a pandemic, World Health Organization (WHO) disclosed some protective measures for preventing the spread of the virus, and social distancing is one out of them. As per WHO, everyone should maintain at least a 1-meter (3 feet) distance from each other to avoid the contact of small liquid droplets of the virus if some other person coughs, sneezes, or speaks. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated in their guideline to maintain at least 6 feet distance from other people.

Meanwhile, some emerging evidence from researchers across the globe suggests that 1-meter distance is not enough coronavirus can spread over much greater distances.

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Does wearing a mask and social distancing really help?

The best practices for controlling an infectious disease like COVID-19 are not easy to follow, such as keeping a three or six feet distance from others and wearing face masks whenever you go outside. Some experts say that on an average, keeping 1-meter distance from each other seems to decrease the chance of catching the coronavirus by 80%. Putting on a mask to cover one’s face seems to lessen the risk by ~85%. And a face shield could lessen the chances of getting an infection by up to 78%. While all these are a matter of uncertainty, the critical message is that social distancing measures help lower the spread of COVID-19.

Emerging Evidence Related to Social Distancing

MIT researcher revealed that the droplets containing coronavirus could travel up to 7-8 meters. Scientists are suggesting increasing the distance provided in the guideline to limit the risk of exposure.

Moreover, some scientists from Stanford University and the University of California in the US, also revealed in their research that six feet distance might not be enough as the virus can travel as far as 20 feet.

Further, some researchers found that weather changes alter the spreading ability of the virus. They found that in dry and hot weather, the virus droplets convert into aerosols which can transmit the infection to a longer distance. In such weather, the infectious aerosols as small as particulate matter 2.5 in size (which is less than 2.5 micrometres) can infiltrate deep into the lungs. In such weather conditions, nearly six meters (~20 feet) of physical distance would be required for preventing virus transmission.

Healthcare workers are at the forefront of the pandemic response and are unprotected against hazards that may put them at a high risk of getting infected. WHO recommends rational use of PPE (personal protective equipment) for health care workers who are providing care to patients with COVID-19, even if they are farther than 6 feet away from the infected person.

How to Safeguard Yourself?

Wearing a facemask and following social distancing norms can decrease the chances of transmission via aerosol particles and can avoid the risk of large droplets. Scientists stated that the infection range of large droplets is constrained to a relatively short distance because they are more sensitive to gravity and can settle down on the surface before vanishing.

If these droplets land of the hand of another person, the virus can be easily transmitted when the person touches their face. However, the researchers said that the survivability of the virus under different weather conditions remains undetermined. Various environmental aspects like temperature, humidity and more are known to affect the transmission and survival of the virus.

Bottomline

Several researchers have stated that the current guidelines for social distancing may not be able to restrict the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 virus (especially when it is in the aerosol form) under different weather conditions. There are many different opinions and research is going on to understand how much infection is caused by tiny aerosols virus particles. However, so far, the best practice to reduce the spread of COVID-19 is social distancing, preferable 6 feet distance or more, and wearing a mask in public.

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