Why the CDC specifically asks you to stay 6 feet apart amid coronavirus pandemic

Agency says distance just outside breathing zone

A large sign encourages people to practice social distancing by standing six feet apart as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19, outside the Grand Army Plaza entrance to Brooklyn's Prospect Park, in New York, Thursday, March 26, 2020. New York authorities have mobilized to head off a public health disaster, with the city’s emergence as the nation’s biggest new coronavirus hot spot. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
A large sign encourages people to practice social distancing by standing six feet apart as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19, outside the Grand Army Plaza entrance to Brooklyn's Prospect Park, in New York, Thursday, March 26, 2020. New York authorities have mobilized to head off a public health disaster, with the city’s emergence as the nation’s biggest new coronavirus hot spot. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

ORLANDO, Fla. – The coronavirus pandemic has become a global conversation, with certain phrases suddenly becoming everyday vocabulary.

There’s one measurement though that everyone seems to be more privy to: 6 feet (2 meters).

That distance is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s social distancing guideline that municipalities and nations are now enforcing.

Why 6 feet?

When someone coughs or sneezes, small, sometimes unseeable, drops of liquid are sprayed out. If you’re standing too close, you can breathe them in. Those droplets could contain the coronavirus, if the person coughing is infected, according to the World Health Organization. Six feet is just far enough to be out of reach.

What if you’re standing 5 feet away?

You’re not protecting yourself properly.

The distance of 3 feet to 6 feet from each other is known as the breathing zone. That means people within that space are breathing and exhaling basically the same air. If someone has the virus, they’re essentially exhaling it into the air you’re breathing.

In a crowd, how likely am I to breathe in the virus?

This is where it gets more scientific. COVID-19 has an R0, pronounced R-naught, of about 2.2.

In epidemiology, R0 is the metric that estimates the expected number of cases that will stem from one case in a population. That means one person with coronavirus will likely infect at least two people or more. That’s why it’s important to keep out of their breathing zone and avoid people altogether.

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