Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology challenged social distancing rules in a study that people are not safe from COVID-19 even they are six feet or 60 feet apart from each other.
The MIT study, "A Guideline to limit indoor airborne transmission of COVID-19," revealed there was no benefit to the six-foot policy, under current measures, even as people continue to wear masks.
In an interview with CNBC, Martin Z. Bazant, an MIT chemical engineering and applied mathematics teacher who leads the study said such distancing rules have no physical basis since the air a person would breathe while wearing a mask "tends to rise and come down elsewhere in the room." As such, the person would be more exposed to the average background than to someone at a distance, he said.
Time Spent with Infected Person Indoors Increases COVID-19 Risk
Contrary to arguments by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, the time people spend with someone who is infected indoors puts them at risk because of the air currents that move in the background.
This means the longer someone is inside with an infected person, the greater the chance for transmission, regardless if they are following the social distancing measures.
The study said that installing fans or opening windows is just as effectively reducing the risk to contract COVID-19 as spending a fortune on pricey air filters. Indoor occupancy limits are also questionable, stressing that as many as 20 people gathered together in one room for a minute would be acceptable.
Bazant further told CNBC that many indoor areas should not have been shut down. He said that once an indoor space is large and the ventilation is good, such spaces can still be safely operated even at full capacity. Bazant added that scientific support for a limited capacity in such spaces "is really not very good." Running the numbers for many types of spaces, he said, they found no practical need for occupancy restrictions.
Social Distancing Guidelines 'Unreasonable'
The six-feet social distancing rules, thus, would mistakenly result in closed businesses and schools, making such guidelines "unreasonable," he said.
Bazant declared that the importance of social distancing was "misplaced from the beginning." He said the WHO or the CDC have not provided any justification for such measures. These organizations only justified the emphasis on social distancing from studies on "coughs and sneezes" in which the largest particles could sediment on the floor and transmit the virus.
Bazant, however, said that analyzing the airflow outside, the infected air would have been swept away and not expected to cause transmission, thus showing less probable cases of an outdoor spread.
Bazant, together with John Bush, an MIT applied mathematics teacher, led the study that came up with a method of measuring exposure risk to COVID-19 indoors that factors in a range of issues that could lead to transmission, a Fox5 New York news report said. This includes the amount of time spent inside the area, air circulation and filtration, immunization, variant strains, mask use, and even respiratory activity such as breathing, speaking, eating, or singing.
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