Analysis: Why the 6-foot-distance rule doesn’t make sense

It’s time to ruin all your assumptions. Ready? Here we go …

The six-foot distance you have been adhering to is bunk and not based in modern science at all.

In fact, any standardized rule for distance is “based on an outdated, dichotomous notion of respiratory droplet size,” as researchers from the University of Oxford published in a study earlier this week.

So all those restaurant owners using measuring tapes to plot out the distance each table should be are just … wasting their time?

The idea that people should be a meter or two apart from each other in order to limit viral transmission goes all the way back to 1897 (known as the peak of scientific knowledge, he wrote sarcastically) when Carl Flügge collected samples on glass or agar plates.

Things got a bit more advanced after a study in 1942 (while all the scientists were probably smoking cigarettes) and there’s a lot more history there but that’s basically where the six-foot rule came from (6 feet is 1.8 meters).

That’s not to say 6 feet is a bad guideline. The Oxford study showed that risk of COVID-19 transmission is 10 times higher at 1 meter, compared to a 2-meter distance.

But it ignores basic physics which says that “where droplets of all sizes are trapped and moved by the exhaled moist and hot turbulent gas cloud that keeps them concentrated as it carries them over metres in a few seconds,” the study’s authors wrote.

The basic message is that physical distancing rules should be more nuanced (and we all know how well social policies incorporate context and nuance).

As the study says: “Rules on distancing should reflect the multiple factors that affect risk, including ventilation, occupancy and exposure time.”

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