How to Eyeball the 6-Feet Required for Physical Distancing

Illustration for article titled How to Eyeball the 6-Feet Required for Physical Distancing

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By now, we’ve been keeping 6 feet apart from other people (or at least been instructed to do so) for almost a year. Some people, like myself, aren’t great at estimating distances or other spatial relationships. My solution to that has been to stay far enough away from other people that there’s no way it could be anything less than 6 feet—even if that means being pressed up against a building while people pass until I find what I consider to be a safe opening in foot traffic. (Don’t worry: that’s not the hack.) The actual hack comes from NPR. Here’s what to know.

Why does physical distancing require 6 feet?

This specific distance was chosen following years of research, some of which dates back to the late 19th century. As Dr. Abraar Karan, a physician at Harvard Medical School, told NPR, it’s the estimated distance that infectious droplets can travel through the air following a sneeze or a cough—or shouting—before they fall to the ground.

But keep in mind that “droplets” and “aerosols” are not the same thing. Aerosols are smaller and are released when we exhale—and another way SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted. And these aerosols can travel farther than 6 feet (yet another reason why wearing a mask is so important for both sick and healthy people).

How to estimate 6 feet

Fortunately, Marc Silver, the editor of NPR’s “Goats and Soda” vertical, has a simple trick that might help: he pictures himself laying on the ground. As someone who is 5′ 8″, Silver tacks on a few extra inches to his estimate, as he demonstrates in this video, where he is pictured next to an animated Michael Jordan:

He also has another strategy—this time, involving your wingspan:

Another good tip to keep that 6 feet of distance is to think about your wingspan — the distance from fingertip to fingertip with your arms outstretched. If you reach out one arm and the person you’re with reaches out one arm, that’s the rough equivalent of your height — so 6 feet, give or take, depending on how tall you are. If you want to judge distance, stretch out an arm, have your companion do the same and adjust accordingly for your respective stature.

If you find yourself in a situation where it’s clear that someone is less than 6 feet away from you and there’s no way to avoid them, turning your head away from the person to avoid their droplets and aerosols is a good idea, Silver writes.