MIT Study Challenges Social Distancing Guidelines, 6 Foot Rule (Frederic J. Brown/ AFP via Getty)
By Nick Koutsobinas | Saturday, 24 April 2021 10:45 AM
A new study published by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says you’re no safer from COVID-19 indoors at 6 feet or 60 feet, challenging social distance policies.
The study, led by Martin Z. Bazant, a chemical engineering and applied mathematics teacher, and John W.M. Bush, a professor of applied mathematics, argues that there "really isn't much of a benefit to the 6-foot rule, especially when people are wearing masks," Bazant told CNBC.
"It really has no physical basis because the air a person is breathing while wearing a mask tends to rise and comes down elsewhere in the room so you're more exposed to the average background than you are to a person at a distance," he added.
The study points out that contrary to arguments by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, the amount of time you spend with an infected person indoors puts you at risk due to the air currents moving in the background.
The researchers say opening windows and installing fans is just as good as spending large amounts of money on expensive air filters. Researchers also said indoor occupancy caps were also flawed, saying 20 people gathered together for one minute inside would be fine.
"What our analysis continues to show is that many spaces that have been shut down in fact don't need to be," Bazant told CNBC. "Often times the space is large enough, the ventilation is good enough, the amount of time people spend together is such that those spaces can be safely operated even at full capacity and the scientific support for reduced capacity in those spaces is really not very good…think if you run the numbers, even right now for many types of spaces you'd find that there is not a need for occupancy restrictions.
"This emphasis on distancing has been really misplaced from the very beginning," he added.
"The CDC or WHO have never really provided justification for it, they've just said this is what you must do and the only justification I'm aware of, is based on studies of coughs and sneezes, where they look at the largest particles that might sediment onto the floor and even then it's very approximate, you can certainly have longer or shorter range, large droplets.
"If you look at the air flow outside, the infected air would be swept away and very unlikely to cause transmission. There are very few recorded instances of outdoor transmission…Crowded spaces outdoor could be an issue, but if people are keeping a reasonable distance of like 3 feet outside, I feel pretty comfortable with that even without masks frankly."
"We need scientific information conveyed to the public in a way that is not just fearmongering but is actually based in analysis," Bazant said.