MIT researcher says the 6-feet social distancing rule isn’t enough to flatten the curve

SARS-Cov-2’s speed and efficiency forced medical professionals to rely on educated guesswork in the early days of our global health crisis.

Some of the initial estimates remained useful, while others were disregarded in favor of updated literature.

New research published in The JAMA Network warns that simply maintaining a distance of six-feet from suspected carriers isn’t enough to flatten the novel coronavirus growth curve. The paper’s lead author, MIT associate professor Lydia Bourouiba has compiled years of analysis to challenge our outdated canon.

“The current coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak vividly demonstrates the burden that respiratory infectious diseases impose in an intimately connected world,” the authors wrote in the new paper..”Droplets that settle along the trajectory can contaminate surfaces, while the rest remain trapped and clustered in the moving cloud. Eventually, the cloud and its droplet payload lose momentum and coherence, and the remaining droplets within the cloud evaporate, producing residues or droplet nuclei that may stay suspended in the air for hours, following airflow patterns imposed by ventilation or climate-control systems.”

It has been previously determined that SARS fomites remain active for about three hours while suspended in air or gas but researchers were unsure about the range of viral debris. Bouroubia and her colleagues have determined that coronavirus-bearing droplets of all sizes can travel 23 to 27 feet from their host after emission.

This new addition recontextualizes relevant preemptive measures, namely in regard to travel masks. Some health systems have directed civilians to employ masks if they suspect that they themselves are ill, but not as a viable method of remaining uninfected.

However, turbulent gas clouds and respiratory pathogen emissions pose a threat to the public even without the presence of a host. In other words: the longer an individual is outside unprotected, the higher the contraction risk.

“Although such social distancing strategies are critical in the current time of the pandemic, it may seem surprising that the current understanding of the routes of host-to-host transmission in respiratory infectious diseases is predicated on a model of disease transmission developed in the 1930s that, by modern standards, seems overly simplified. Implementing public health recommendations based on these older models may limit the effectiveness of the proposed interventions,” the authors continued.

As we near peak transmission, health care professionals have been alerted to exercise extreme caution. The only clinical recourse for COVID-19 is supportive and hospitals are already short on equipment and therapeutics.

Bill Gates warned in a TED Talk back in 2015 that infectious disease funding in the United States was seriously lacking. After witnessing the Ebola epidemic that ravaged Africa, the magnate and his wife Melinda Gates saw how misinformation trickles down into and erodes every level of bureaucracy. 

Several administrations failing to dedicate resources to pandemic research sees the medical community scramble to play catch up with a pathogen that is twice as fast as anything previously recorded.

“There’s an urgency in revising the guidelines currently being given by the [World Health Organization] and the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] on the needs for protective equipment, particularly for the frontline health care workers,” Bouroubia told the New York Post. “Virus particles could be found in the ventilation systems in hospital rooms of patients with COVID-19.”