The Terrifying Reason Six Feet of Distance May Not Be Enough

New study says you should probably keep even more distance from others.

Six feet of separation has been touted as the gold standard when it comes to social distancing, just the right amount space to maintain between yourself and others to keep you safe from coronavirus transmission. Unfortunately, a new study suggests that six feet may not be nearly enough distance to offer adequate protection after all.

According to a study published on May 19 in the journal Physics of Fluids, the respiratory droplets responsible for infecting people with coronavirus rarely travel six feet when wind isn't a factor. However, with even the slightest breeze, those droplets can travel significantly farther—up to nearly 20 feet in five seconds in wind speeds of just under 2.5 miles per hour, and that same distance in just 1.6 seconds if winds are blowing at nine miles per hour.

Perhaps even more frightening, the study found that in conditions without wind, all respiratory droplets hit the ground before reaching the six-foot mark, but when the wind was blowing at nine miles per hour, many droplets were still more than 3 feet off the ground when they reached the 19-foot mark—suggesting an increased likelihood of coming into contact with people in their path.

white woman sneezing into hand outdoors

This new research suggests that spending time together outdoors may be an even riskier proposition than many people previously thought. Though staying inside for the foreseeable future may not be an option, if you do go outside and run the risk of coming into contact with other people, wearing a mask and keeping even more distance than you have been sounds like the best way to go.

Luckily, there's evidence that wearing a mask can help protect people from both actively ill and asymptomatic carriers. In fact, according to an April 2020 study published in Nature, researchers didn't detect any coronavirus droplets or aerosols expelled by study participants who wore a disposable surgical mask, while 30 percent of study subjects expelled coronavirus aerosols without a mask and 40 percent of unmasked subjects expelled droplets.

So keep those masks on, those hands washed, and whenever possible, give the folks you see a wave—and a wide berth. And for more ways to protect yourself, practice these 13 Safety Precautions You Should Take Every Day to Prevent Coronavirus.

Sarah Crow
Sarah Crow is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, where she focuses on celebrity news and health coverage. Read more
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