Is six feet enough for physical distancing? New cough study could have major implications

LONDON, ONT — A new study out of Western University in London, Ont. has found that the global standard of six feet may not make any difference if someone coughs in your direction.

The study was done with those who were infected with seasonal influenza in 2017 and 2018.

Participants were asked to cough into a specially designed chamber to analyze just how far a cough can travel.

The results showed that 10 per cent of cough droplets remain in the air at a distance of six feet.

“That means the very fine droplets are going to remain suspended for a long time, even after four seconds,” says Eric Savory from Western’s Department of Mechanical and Materials.

Savory believes this study marks the furthest distance anyone has ever measured cough airflow.

While the study was done with influenza patients, it has ramifications for the COVID-19 pandemic.

The novel coronavirus known as COVID-19 has been shown to be highly infectious and airborne.

Around the globe the standard for physical distancing has been six feet, but with this new data the researchers at Western are now turning their attention to COVID-19.

Savory will be teaming up with Eric Arts from Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and Franco Berruti from Western’s Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering.

The team will examine the pathways of COVID-19 droplets through the air, as well as test its survivability under different circumstances such as temperature and humidity.

If the results are similar it could mean that the global standard of six feet for physical distancing may not be enough.

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