Science shows why we’re told to stay 6 feet away from each other

ORLANDO, Fla. — Six feet. By now, that number has been etched in our minds as how for to stay from others in public.

But why 6 feet?

Engineers at a Florida school used smoke and laser lights to simulate coughing in their laboratory and showed how COVID-19, the coronavirus may be able to travel even farther through the air.

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For most of us, the short time we spend outside our homes, is filled with awkwardly avoiding people.

But how far apart, is safe?

Studies show that as many as 40,000 “small droplets” of saliva can rush out our mouths as we sneeze. If we’re sick, these droplets can transport the coronavirus.

The larger droplets fall to the ground very quickly, but the smallest ones can stay suspended in the air a very long time.

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From their lab at FAU, the engineers show how far these smaller droplets can travel through still air, simulating a cough by pumping a fog mixture through a mannequin's head and tracing it with a laser.

The test showed that droplets are able to go all the way up to about 12 feet.

But does that mean that we need to keep a safe distance of 12 feet or more from other people?

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Some doctors say no, because after 6 feet, the volume of the “cough jet” grows, spreading outward in a cone shape. This drops the concentration of these droplets dramatically.

And, if you wear a mask, you'll stop the forward travel of most these droplets down to just a few feet.

How does weather play into all this? Well, on less humid days like Monday, larger droplets dry out and become smaller. Now lighter, they can travel even farther when you cough or sneeze.