Six-foot rings for the beach and bubble suits are being used in some bars to keep people far enough apart and prevent the spread of COVID-19 germs.
Sadly, that distance might not be far enough, according to medical professionals who study the spray of coughs and sneezes. Ten feet, they say, is probably a safer buffer.
Six feet – a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in case a cough, sneeze, shout or spontaneous singing sprays particles of the highly-infectious and potentially fatal virus — is standard for all viruses transmitted by droplets from the nose or mouth of an infected person. In an opinion piece in the Washington Post in May, a doctor from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health wrote, “Six feet is good, but 10 feet is better.”
Those who study the distance coughs can spray discovered that larger particles fall to the ground well within the 6-foot recommended radius, but smaller ones fly much farther in mere seconds. Some can linger in the air for a minute or longer.
Supportive data was published the same month in the Physics of Fluids journal, stating that a mild cough in low wind propels droplets 18 feet in just five seconds.
Droplets blasted out by sneezes can fly even farther, some at a rate of up to 200 miles per hour, crossing rooms. As with coughs, however, the number of droplets is diluted with distance.
Coughs and sneezes aren’t the only way to share virus particles. Aerosols are smaller and lighter than droplets, emitting from the mouth during regular speech and able to fly farther and stay airborne longer. A National Institutes of Health publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science revealed that one minute of loud speaking generates at least 1,000 tiny droplets that stay in the air for eight minutes or more.
Besides keeping distance between yourself and others, wearing masks can limit how far the infectious droplets fly, according to Dr. Ajay Kumar, chief clinical officer at Hartford HealthCare.
While preliminary research from South Korea, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that smaller viral particles were propelled through a cloth face covering during a cough, the combination of a mask and a six-foot distance around one should be enough to protect others from the particles.
Not feeling well? Call your healthcare provider for guidance and try to avoid going directly to an emergency department or urgent care center, as this could increase the chances of the disease spreading.
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