New Korean Study Calls Six-Foot Social Distancing Standard into Question

By Anna Breuer on 9 December 2020
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The Austrian stamp that brings together two key symbols of the pandemic, toilet paper and a baby elephant

A study published last week that looked at currently accepted parameters for social distancing raised concerns that the six-foot (1.83-meter) standard prevalent in the United States may be insufficient in terms of keeping people safe.

The standard varies across the globe.  The Austrian standard, for example, is one meter, which coincides with the World Health Organization’s recommendation.  In order to help Austrians visualize the recommended one-meter distance, health authorities used the example that it was the length of a baby elephant in its social-distancing campaigns.  Neighboring Germany recommends a distance of 1.5 meters or 4.9’.

The study, “Evidence of Long-Distance Droplet Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 by Direct Air Flow in a Restaurant in Korea,“ published in the Journal of Korean Medical Science, used data from South Korea’s fairly meticulous (if not overly invasive) contact tracing program to track how the virus moves through the populace.

A key finding is that, even at six feet, we may not be far enough from carriers of the virus.

“In this outbreak, the distances between infector and infected persons were… farther than the generally accepted 2-meter [6.6-foot] droplet transmission range,” the authors of the study wrote. “The guidelines on quarantine and epidemiological investigation must be updated to reflect these factors for control and prevention of COVID-19.”

The team of researchers who conducted the study, including Dr. Lee Ju-hyung, a professor of preventive medicine and Chonbuk National University, even recreated a scenario in a restaurant where diners had become infected with the coronavirus. One diner, a 17-year-old student, acquired Covid-19 after five minutes of exposure from 20’ (6.1 meters) away.

In Austria, the baby elephant used in the campaign, Kibali, who resides at Vienna’s Schönbrunn Zoo, has grown to be 2 m (6.6’) in length.  Perhaps Kibali can be enlisted to consider an increase to the recommended social distance as well.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

Accura News

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