MIT Researchers Find that Risk of Contracting COVID Indoors Is the Same at 6ft and 60ft

IBL News | New York

A new study from MIT found that the risk of contracting COVID-19 indoors is the same when socially distanced 6 feet apart and 60 feet apart, challenging the rules from both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding social distance.

The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. It used a quantitative approach based on the best available data.

Specifically, MIT researchers Martin Z. Bazant, professor of chemical engineering and applied mathematics, and John W. M. Bush, professor of applied mathematics, say that people who maintain 6 feet of distance indoors are no more protected than if they were 60 feet apart – even when wearing a mask.

The most important factor is the amount of time spent indoors rather than how far apart people stand from one another — they say.

“Many spaces that have been shut down in fact don’t need to be.” (…) “Often space and ventilation are good enough, the amount of time people spend together is such that those spaces can be safely operated even at full capacity.”

Since the pandemic started in March 2020, ideas about COVID transmission have been changing. In the beginning, experts believed that touching surfaces were the leading cause. Now, they say that the virus is transmitted through droplets released when people talk, sneeze, and cough. 

These MIT researchers created a model to calculate exposure risk based on the amount of time indoors, air filtration, immunizations, variants, and breathing.

Last month, the CDC dropped the distancing guidance to 3 feet for classroom settings.

MIT’s analysis is based on the fact that in enclosed spaces, tiny airborne pathogen-bearing droplets emitted by people as they talk, cough, sneeze, sing, or eat will tend to float in the air for long periods and to be well-mixed throughout the space by air currents.

MIT News: A method to assess Covid-19 transmission risks in indoor settings