Does social distance mean safety from the virus?

At the very beginning of the emergency for COVID-19, the World Health Organization has published a list of simple precautions that every citizen all over the world needs to follow; in order to avoid the spread of the virus in a dangerous way, small and smart rules are the key to face this new challenge.

These rules are some of the most relevant ones to keep people safe from the disease. One of the most important and discussed is the one related to the “social distancing” but is this measure a winning idea? And how?

In the preliminary studies, Prof. Chaolong Wang and his team (University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China)and  were not so sure if about 50 % of the population of the city contracted the virus. Some people were “asymptomatic” and, as a consequence, they were unpredictable on the basis of possible disease’ bearers; people could pass the virus without realizing it.

The distance seems to be the only solution to avoid any risk of contagion. People should stay away from others at least six feet to guarantee a “safety zone” around them, since the transmission of the respiratory illness is quickly and definitive, even with a cough or a breath.


These pictures are part of a 3D simulation from the NY Times about the social distance and how it can affect all the individuals around us. They clearly show the dynamism of the bacteria through air and space: the small drops containing the virus can affect individuals nearby, staying 1.8 meters distant can prevent the spread of other drops to others. This way of acting can be useful if we consider that transmission occurs through droplets that fall in proximity to our position.

“Reduction” is the exact word to describe the goal of the adoption of social distance; there is a relevant percentage of uncertainty for the distance as a way of prevention.


Another source that is interesting to look at is a video edited by the University of Tokyo with the help of Japanese television: an experiment created with a simulation of a “sneeze” in a lab. It is interesting to see the attitude of larger drops and microparticles in the air; they stay suspended in the environment for 20 minutes.

The study showed that even a simple conversation between two friends can lead to the transmission of the disease, due to the small distance between the two faces.

I  you are curious, here it is the complete video:

Social Distancing has been widely approved by the scientific community as the strongest tool to combat new infections. To display the idea in a more effective way, even new commercials have started to pop-up displaying the risk associated with remaining in close proximity one with the other.

This can be seen also in this video,, we visualize the virus as ping pong balls on mouse traps; if we are close all the mouse traps are set-off, meanwhile if we distance each other the ping pong ball doesn’t affect anyone.


Other studies all over the world.

A study carried out on a sample of about 1000 people, in Wuhan and Shanghai, brought to the attention of scientists the usefulness of the distancing mechanism.

The study highlighted that the average person went from being in contact with 14-20 people per day to a much less 2-3, represented mainly by family members, or by people living in the same house. Only these measures have given the possibility to China to recover from the harsh impact of the virus and start again work across the country.

A study carried out by the Imperial College of London shows that if no measures were taken the world could face up to 40 million deaths; a death toll so high cannot be accepted. Governments are no longer deciding between 2 possible scenarios, they need to accept the truth and take action and  y must undertake lockdown mechanisms as much as their economy can hold; the stakes at play are just too high.

Other important measures considered by the Imperial College crucial to maintain fluid operation in the health system will be monitoring and quick isolation of cases. Our recent history has shown that if we cannot test and track cases health systems tend to collapse.


Even if there is a lot of compelling evidence supporting social distancing there are still people who do not want to accept this momentaneous reality. Especially in the United States people are continuously rioting against such measures and, even if there are tens of thousands of deaths, personal interest is being put in front of the common good showing that the experience lived by other countries hasn’t awakened a sense of community values in the citizens of the other side of the ocean.

On the other side of the coin, one world leader in particular isn’t doing his homework properly: Bolsonaro. Brazil’s President is going against the reforms taken by the rest of the world leaders. He has repeatedly criticized social distancing as not being useful and has invented a new kind of isolation in which the elderly and the at-risk groups remain at home while all the others are allowed to freely roam the city. His approach has been widely criticized by other world leaders including members of his own staff; the Health Minister Mandetta has insisted on the confusion that Bolsonaro’s approach creates in the mind of Brazil citizens.


Social distancing is the only way in which we can actively combat the virus and shouldn’t be underestimated.

Tommaso Celani and Francesca Virzi




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