Researcher finds droplets carrying coronavirus may travel further than six feet

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The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has prompted social distancing guidelines around the world, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) asking people to stay at least six feet away from one another. However, a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, says six feet may not be enough to avoid spreading the virus.

In the study, Lydia Bourouiba, PhD, an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), found exhalations cause gaseous clouds that can travel up to 27 feet. The study said current guidelines focus on large droplets as the method of transmission for the virus, and the idea that large droplets can only travel a certain distance.

Peak exhalation speeds can reach 33 to 100 feet per second. Currently used surgical and N95 masks are not tested for these potential characteristics of respiratory emissions, according to the study. When a person coughs, sneezes, or exhales, a gaseous cloud that can droplets of all sizes is emitted, Bourouiba said in the study. The cloud is only partially mitigated by sneezing or coughing into one’s elbow.  

The World Health Organization (WHO) does recommend “droplet and contact precautions for those people caring for COVID-19 patients” in its modes of transmission report.

The research calls for improved measures protect the healthcare workers.

Editor's note: Click here for more information and ongoing COVID-19 updates for integrative healthcare professionals.