In the battle against COVID-19, science and ingenuity are our greatest allies. Coronavirus social distancing guidelines have long served as the foundation of our safety strategies, but with roughly a year of experience, examples and statistics under our belt, science does what science does best: It evolves. And when science evolves, we evolve with it — that’s how we stay ahead of the game. So, what’s behind the social distancing guidelines and do they still hold up?
Why 6 Feet?
The CDC advises a central 6-foot rule for COVID-19 social distancing because the virus is easily spread by the transmission of tiny droplets that travel through the air from the mouth and nose. This rule-of-thumb distance gives most droplets a chance to dissipate, since 6 feet is about what it takes for a cough or sneeze to travel before it settles.
However, Temple University epidemiologist Kyrs Johnson spoke to LiveScience, saying that 6 feet is not the end-all-be-all, but rather a solid reference point, especially for outdoor settings where droplets linger less. “It should be seen as an absolute minimum for indoor settings,” she says.
The Airborne Issue
Questions about floating respiratory droplets (known as aerosols) have entered the conversation in a serious way. Aerosolized respiratory droplets are so small and light that they can linger in indoor air long after the person who expelled them is gone, and new evidence suggests that those aerosols can, indeed, contain live virus. As the New York Times reports, a University of Florida research team was able to isolate live virus from aerosols collected at distances of up to 16 feet from hospitalized COVID-19 patients.
As of September 2020, these findings still need vetting from peer review, and the amount of virus recovered from the aerosols remains unclear. What we can surmise, though, is that 6 feet of social distance is a safer bet outdoors, while indoor time with those beyond your quarantine bubble is probably safer when it’s even more-distanced and as limited as possible.
The Science So Far
In May of 2020, researchers at the University of Kentucky, University of Louisville and Georgia State University published a country-wide study to gauge the effectiveness of different types of COVID-19 social distancing policies, from bans on large gatherings to closing schools and beyond. Their findings, published in Health Affairs, determined that stay-at-home orders and closing entertainment-related businesses had the greatest effect on restricting the virus’s growth rate.
Depending on the length of the orders, from 6 days to more than 20 days, these types of social distancing practices can reduce COVID-19 growth rate from about 3 percentage points to nearly 9 percentage points overall. That same month, in the journal Science, Harvard researchers reported that coronavirus social distancing policies may have to persist into 2022 to prevent the United States healthcare system from being overwhelmed.
Does It Work?
Do COVID-19 social distancing guidelines work, or is everyone just playing the world’s biggest game of telephone? Thanks to a study released by Johns Hopkins University in September 2020 that is among the first large-scale evaluations of coronavirus available, we know that social distancing does its job. Based on a random sample of 1,000 people, the study found that those who practice strict social distancing are only a tenth as likely to become infected as those who do not.
Don’t forget to wear your mask. Boomer Nano-Silver Reusable Face Masks have three layers of cloth enhanced with Nano-Silver Technology, which offers 99.9% antimicrobial protection. According to CDC Director Dr. Robert A. Redfield, “Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus — particularly when used universally within a community setting.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Social Distancing
World Health Organization: Transmission of SARS-CoV2: Implications for Infection Prevention Precautions
Livescience: Is 6 Feet Enough Space for Social Distancing?
The New York Times: ‘A Smoking Gun’: Infectious Coronavirus Retrieved from Hospital Air
Advisory Board: Which Social Distancing Policies Are Most Effective? Here’s What a New Study Found
Science: Projecting the Transmission Dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 Through the Postpandemic Period
Science Daily: COVID-19 Study Links Strict Social Distancing to Much Lower Chance of Infection
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: CDC Calls on Americans to Wear Masks to Prevent COVID-19 Spread