June 23, 2021

New MIT study challenges scientific basis for social distancing policies

The following article was written by Rich Mendez. It was published on April 23, 2021 by CNBC and updated last April 26, 2021.

In this article, Mendez reports on the results of a new study published by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) which shows that indoors, social distancing guidelines make no difference. According to the researchers, “We argue that there really isn’t much of a benefit with the 6-foot rule, especially when people are wearing masks…It really has almost no physical basis because the air a person is breathing while wearing a mask tends to rise and comes down elsewhere in the room so you’re more exposed to the average background than you are to a person at a distance…in well-mixed spaces[1]Air inside a room is “well-mixed” if the pathogen is distributed uniformly throughout. one is no safer from airborne pathogens at 60 feet than 6 feet”.

Martin Mazant, one of the co-authors of the study, says that the science behind indoor occupancy caps is flawed. “Small, poorly ventilated spaces where a lot of people spend a lot of time together places people at the most risk”, he says. Mazant adds that many places that were shut down didn’t necessarily need to close. The researchers add that social distancing outdoors makes little sense. Opening windows and installing new fans to keep the indoor air moving is just as effective as installing a new filtration system.

In a statement released by the authors, they offered these clarifications: “Our study indicates that the six-foot rule is insufficient to limit indoor airborne transmission of COVID-19 one must also limit the time spent in the indoor space. Our study demonstrates how this time limit depends on the relevant factors, including ventilation, filtration, and face mask use…face masks can be an extremely effective indoor safety measure.”

The original study passed peer review and has been published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Editor’s Note: This MIT study supports the recent statement of former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and the 2019 report on non-pharmaceutical interventions published by the World Health Organization [see Former FDA chief says social distancing not based on clear science]. It makes obsolete another coronavirus myth and must be considered by governments in revising their policies. [Just recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) admitted that the risk of surface transmission is low and that obsessively disinfecting surfaces may be doing more harm than good, see CDC: Disinfecting surfaces, often for show, can bring more harm than good]. If physical distancing cannot work indoors, and if governments believe that his pandemic will become permanent, they need to think of new interventions that can be used long-term and have minimal unintended consequences. [See We must start planning for a permanent pandemic]. This article should open our minds to exploring other more sustainable solutions.

In the Philippines, we must call in to question the practice of putting up plastic barriers in jeepneys, stores, and restaurants. Not only do these barriers prevent air from circulating, but they are also surfaces where dirt and other pathogens can stick to. Moreover, the practice of wearing face shields prevents us from inhaling clean air. They also cause stale air to be trapped in between the mask and the face shield. Both of these two policies should be scrapped based on new-found evidence.

If it is true that physical distancing does not make a difference in virus control, then our governments must stop trapping us inside our homes, the same place where infection clusters are found. Lockdowns must now be lifted and public outdoor spaces reopened. Limitations in business capacities must be reassessed based on the nature of the business, and the ventilation of the facility. We believe that unclogging places of commerce will benefit us, not only in controlling infection, but also economically, as fast and comfortable transactions can ensure that businesses are able to address the needs of their consumers.

The authors apparently support the use of facemasks, but recent studies are showing that face masks are not effective, and could actually cause harm [see Danish mask study now published: Masks do not reduce SARS-CoV-2 infection and German Neurologist: Oxygen deprivation due to face masks cause permanent neurological damage].

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1 Air inside a room is “well-mixed” if the pathogen is distributed uniformly throughout.

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