NEWS & ANALYSIS

New Study Disputes Indoor Social Distancing, Highlights ‘Inadequacy’ of 6 Ft. Rule


A new study from the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology challenges social distancing guidelines, urging that the “six-foot rule” we’ve been practicing for the last year is likely inadequate. 

“Our analysis shows that many spaces may be safe to re-open at full occupancy, while others carry significant risk,” MIT Professor Martin Bazant said. 

That is, “depending on the amount of time people spend together, the ventilation rate, whether face masks are worn, and other factors.” 

The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America, centered around factors like time spent indoors, air circulation and filtration, immunization and variant strains, Fox News reports

“I think if you run the numbers, even right now for many types of spaces, you’d find that there is not a need for occupancy restrictions,” the expert told CNBC. 

Bazant – along with his partner in the study, Professor John Bush – developed an equation to determine the risk of exposure to the virus

“We argue that, in the context of airborne transmission in a well-mixed space, the benefits of the six-foot rule are limited,” Bazant said. 

“As everyone in the room is breathing the same air, they share the same risk. Social distancing may thus be giving you a false sense of security. However, we note that the six-foot rule is valuable in limiting transmission by respiratory jets, which pose a heightened risk when people are not wearing masks,” he added. 

Original guidance by health experts focused on droplets expelled by coughing or sneezing, but new research shows that droplets can be transmitted through the air. 

Per the study, the type of activity one engages in matters too: exercising singing or shouting increases pathogen output, acting to decrease the time that someone can spend inside before risking infection. 

The study suggests that total time spent indoors with others may be just as important as social distancing. 

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