The study recommends that social distancing rules take into consideration several other factors.
Rabat – The social distancing rule of staying one to two meters away from others to protect against COVID-19 is “outdated” and needs to adapt to several factors, a recent study revealed.
The study, conducted by experts from the University of Oxford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, estimates that several other factors can equally, if not more, affect the spread of COVID-19, including ventilation and speaking volume.
“Physical distancing should be seen as only one part of a wider public health approach to containing the COVID-19 pandemic. It needs to be implemented alongside combined strategies of people-air-surface-space management,” the study suggested.
According to its authors, whether social distancing is sufficient or not depends on a set of other factors that, if not taken into consideration, can pose a risk of COVID-19 infection.
Main risk factors
The main factors mentioned by the medical study are the ventilation and occupancy of spaces, the time spent within groups, the number of people wearing face masks, and the volume at which people are speaking—the higher it is, the further they expel saliva that is potentially loaded with viruses.
“Instead of single, fixed physical distance rules, we propose graded recommendations that better reflect the multiple factors that combine to determine risk. This would provide greater protection in the highest risk settings but also greater freedom in lower risk settings, potentially enabling a return towards normality in some aspects of social and economic life,” the study said.
The researchers suggest a table that summarizes the risk of transmission according to the mentioned factors.
For instance, in a well-ventilated area with high population density, the risk of spreading COVID-19 is low if all people wear masks, speak at a moderate volume, and stay in the area for a short period of time. The risk increases when people are not wearing masks or are shouting.
According to the table, the most important risk factor is, perhaps, poor ventilation in crowded spaces. The table shows that even when wearing face masks, people are at a risk of contracting COVID-19 if the area is poorly-ventilated.
The authors of the study argue that social distancing is based on “outdated science” that does not necessarily apply to COVID-19. According to them, the rule was established over a century ago for other infectious diseases.
The authors concluded by recommending that all rules on distancing “reflect the multiple factors that affect risk, including ventilation, occupancy, and exposure time” to prevent the spread of COVID-19.