logoThe People's Perspective on Medicine

Standing Six Feet Apart Indoors Is Not as Safe as You Think

Maintaining six feet of distance between people indoors is less effective than avoiding crowds for preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Standing Six Feet Apart Indoors Is Not as Safe as You Think
Coronavirus COVID-19 virus social distancing concept. Stay six feet apart. Flat icon vector illustration

The CDC recently relaxed its recommendations about mask wearing. People who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear a mask outside unless they are in a crowd. However, the CDC has not lifted its rules about wearing masks inside, since that is potentially riskier. Moreover, new research from MIT suggests that maintaining six feet of distance between people indoors is not very effective. The analysis really confirms what has been apparent from case reports for months.

Six Feet of Separation Aren’t Reliably Protective:

Two mathematicians devised modeling simulations of indoor spaces (PNAS, online April 27, 2021). As a result, they found that ventilation, mask-wearing, number of people and their behavior—exercising, singing or speaking—had a bigger impact on the potential for infection that whether they stood six feet apart. When the air exchange rate is high, people are less likely to spread the infection. They also reduce their risk if they all wear masks. But a person who is exercising or singing can exhale a lot of aerosol particles into the room, increasing the chance that they might share any virus they harbor. 

Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists conclude:

“To minimize the risk of infection, one should avoid spending extended periods in highly populated areas.”

With nearly 40% of American adults vaccinated, COVID-19 cases are dropping in most parts of the US. But millions of Americans–the majority of us–are still vulnerable to infection. With tens of thousands of new cases every day, limiting time indoors and wearing masks seem prudent to protect everyone. That’s especially important with the circulation of more infectious variants, such as B.1.1.7.

Rate this article
0- 0 ratings
About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
  • Bazant MZ & Bush JWM, "A guideline to limit indoor airborne transmission of COVID-19." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online April 27, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2018995118
Join over 150,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

We're empowering you to make wise decisions about your own health, by providing you with essential health information about both medical and alternative treatment options.