6-foot social distancing won't protect you from a sneeze, scientists find

Person sneezing.
(Image credit: Antonio_Diaz/iStock)

Everything you've been told about social distancing was most certainly not a lie. But it could use some revisions.

Health officials have been recommending people keep a 6-foot distance from others throughout the coronavirus pandemic, saying that will help stop the spread of COVID-19. But scientists have found that may not be far enough, especially when sneezes are involved, and are working on a new formula that will could keep everyone even safer, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Researchers at the University of Florida are among scientists suggesting that 6-foot social distancing "is too close in some instances and based on science that is decades old," the Tampa Bay Times writes. After all, sneezes can send saliva droplets flying up to 21 feet away, while smaller particles can hang in the air for hours and even travel throughout a building. Humidity and small room sizes make it even more likely that disease particles will live longer and travel farther, said Ahmadi Goodarz, an aerosols expert at Clarkson University.

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That's why a UF team led by professor Sivaramakrishnan Balachandar is rethinking the one-size-fits-all distance. They've developed a new model to determine how particles travel through the air, and are "tweaking" it to develop more accurate social distancing recommendations for airplanes, classrooms, and other diverse situations, the Tampa Bay Times continues. And in the end, they hope to share their research via a simple online tool that helps a building or business determine how far it needs to space people out, if it needs to install better filtration, and more recommendations to allow for safe reopenings. Read more at the Tampa Bay Times.

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Kathryn Krawczyk

Kathryn is a graduate of Syracuse University, with degrees in magazine journalism and information technology, along with hours to earn another degree after working at SU's independent paper The Daily Orange. She's currently recovering from a horse addiction while living in New York City, and likes to share her extremely dry sense of humor on Twitter.