Social Distancing as Prevention of COVID-19 Transmission: Is It Enough?

Recently, COVID-19, which originated from Wuhan, China, has quickly become the center of global concern and pandemic. A lot of countries are currently putting their best efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19. Educational campaigns have been employed to increase community awareness and understanding. Social distancing is one of the most well-known campaigns.

Social distancing is one of the recommended COVID-19 prevention methods which requires individuals to be at least 1.5 meters away from each other. This stems from research on the travel distance of droplets expelled from an infected person. However, there are emerging pieces of evidence where such measures may not be effective anymore. The proposed social distancing measurement is made with the assumption that all individuals are stationary and there is no air movement. A research done by NHK, the Japanese National Broadcasting Company, in collaboration with the Japanese Association for Infectious Diseases, has shown that microdroplets with a size of 10 microns may linger in the air without falling to the ground as droplets do. There is a possibility that the virus exists in these microdroplets and is still infectious. This condition is particularly common in an enclosed environment without proper ventilation such as an air-conditioned room. 

Another research also reports that the slipstreaming effect that renders the safe distance could increase depending on the speed of a person’s movement. If the recommended social distance for a stationary individual is 1.5 meters, the recommended distance will increase to 5 meters for a person who is jogging, and 10 meters for a person who is running. This is due to the acceleration of wind when an object passes through as it creates wind streams that flow backward. For runners, cyclists and even casual morning joggers, it is important to keep a safe distance of at least 10 meters from other people. It is also recommended to implement a parallel running formation which allows joggers/runners to jog/run next to each other, avoiding running behind another jogger/runner.

The addition of new rules on social distancing are making social distancing more complicated than it initially sounded. One of the solutions to mitigate the drawbacks of social distancing is to wear masks. Nowadays, medical disposable masks or cloth masks are the most commonly used. Masks can prevent infected patients from producing droplets, microdroplets and aerosols. In addition, masks also prevent such particles from getting in contact with those who wear them, reducing the probability of infection. 

To conclude, community compliance and participation rate in government prevention programs are paramount to the success of curbing the spread of COVID-19. Practicing good social distancing, combined with the use of masks when going outside and meeting people, will serve as some of the many successful strategies in combating COVID-19. 

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