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This method wants to unseat social distance as a way to fight against Covid


One of the measures that is part of the "new normal" is save 1.5 meters away between people to stop the spread of Covid-19. What is the origin of this rule? It was the German scientist Carl Flügge who thought at the end of the 19th century that if enough distance was maintained between people who are sick and those who are healthy, perhaps the spread of pathogens could be prevented. However, scientists from Oxford and MIT they consider that this dogma may be out of date. Therefore, last Tuesday, they published a alternative system that works as a traffic light.

Flügge's hypothesis was confirmed four decades later thanks to the development of photography. In the early 1940s, scientists were able to see what sneezes looked like in images, with a capture rate of 30,000 frames per second. This showed that the particles that are expelled by coughing and sneezing settle on the ground at a distance of one to five feet.

The scientists then concluded that most of the infectious particles that people expelled (90% of the pathogens) traveled one distance less than a meter and a half. However, these measures were never intended to become hard and fast rules about how far we should be from another person during a pandemic.

Lidia Morawska, a scientist specializing in the study of aerosols from Australia who works at the International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health, and her colleagues are beginning to question the safety distance and proposing another more modern method to avoid the spread of the virus. These experts argue that we should learn to evaluate situations from day to day, lowering your guard when it is relatively safe and re-alert if necessary.


According to the study published last Tuesday by researchers from Oxford and MIT, "the traffic light" helps to live life to the fullest but with sufficient care during the pandemic. This system consists of carefully assess risks of any situation: analyze the site, look at the density of people and what they are doing.

Lydia bourouiba, director of the Fluid Dynamics Laboratory of Disease Transmission at MIT, explained to 'Business Insider', shortly before the study was published in 'BMJ', that its purpose is that people who take action regarding schools or to organize a barbecue or a wedding, be it more "resilient" by having the tools to make the "right decisions" and "impose the right restrictions."

"We equip people with knowledge to adapt to different situations and to know when they need to be alert and when to let their guard down," Bourouiba said.


Regarding the spread of the virus, Morawaska and other scientists clarify that it makes no sense to distinguish a drop from the aerosol, or what happens at one meter from what happens at two. What to focus on is the virus number that they can get into the body, no matter how they do it.

Morawaska argues that "there is three forms of contagion and all three have to be controlled ": people (the most common form of infection), surfaces and the air. The problem is that" all this happens at the same time and making differences is difficult, "explains the scientist.

The areas of greatest danger are small closed spaces without good ventilation where people are lively and active. "Breathing, singing, coughing and sneezing generate hot and humid gas clouds of exhaled air that contain respiratory droplets", emphasize Bourouiba and the rest of the authors of the study published in 'BMJ'. Under these conditions, which occur in bars, gyms, live music venues, churches, discos, etc., even a distance of 6 or 7 meters it wouldn't be enough to be protected.

Bourouiba believes that "everyone understands what the lights of a traffic light are." The scientist insists that it is important take into account the rules when assessing how to reopen, meet and socialize during the pandemic.

"We need to be able to adapt and not be alert all the time," he warns. "Not only with the safety distance and the mask." The questions to ask yourself are: How long does the contact last? Do you wear a mask? Is the site well ventilated? Will it be loud?

There are many issues that each citizen has to assess, in each situation, during a pandemic. Therefore, knowing the degree of danger, the possibility of contagion, be it green, red or yellow, can be an effective measure to impose the adequate restrictions.

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