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Here's How Far You Should Really Stand from Others Indoors, Say Experts

A new social distancing update suggests that six feet is not the right length?
Grandmother and grandson separated by social distancing on park bench

Six feet may not be enough distance to avoid the COVID-19 contagion according to a new set of recommendations published in Science Magazine.

Yes, just when we think we have a clear sense of what to do, and not what to do, the rules appear to be changing. But that is the nature of the novel coronavirus, the likes of which the medical and public health experts have never seen before. So as new data comes in, new research and analysis lead to new advisories and guidelines.

At issue is what is now being considered the highest risk environments that can lead to the dangerous "viral overloads" of the COVID-19 virus. Turns out that high-trafficked and poorly ventilated indoor environments are the potentially most dangerous places to be. And the nature of the virus spreading in the air via "aerosol particles," has led scientists to suggest a wider distance when indoors.

"Infectious aerosol particles can be released during breathing and speaking by asymptomatic infected individual," the study states, adding that "No masking maximizes exposure, whereas universal masking results in the least exposure." But its the issue of distancing that will likely make the most headlines:

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations for social distancing of 6 ft and hand washing to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2 are based on studies of respiratory droplets carried out in the 1930s. These studies showed that large, ~100 μm droplets produced in coughs and sneezes quickly underwent gravitational settling . However, when these studies were conducted, the technology did not exist for detecting submicron aerosols. As a comparison, calculations predict that in still air, a 100-μm droplet will settle to the ground from 8 ft in 4.6 s whereas a 1-μm aerosol particle will take 12.4 hours  Measurements now show that intense coughs and sneezes that propel larger droplets more than 20 ft can also create thousands of aerosols that can travel even further. Increasing evidence for SARS-CoV-2 suggests the 6 ft WHO recommendation is likely not enough under many indoor conditions where aerosols can remain airborne for hours, accumulate over time, and follow air flows over distances further than 6 ft.

So if you are indoors, and have space, know that six feet may not be enough space between you and a stranger, especially if there is an "intense coughs and sneezes that propel larger droplets more than 20 ft."  So if you witness an intense cough and or sneeze, then try to get 20 feet away, which will likely keep you from inhaling those aerosol droplets and may very well keep you healthy and safe.

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