Social distancing has become a common practice during the COVID-19 pandemic. Wearing a mask and maintaining a distance of 6 feet from others are simple guidelines enacted by governments all over the world to curb the spread of the coronavirus. However, a recent study has suggested that while wearing a mask, a distance of 3 feet from others is as effective against the coronavirus as a distance of 6 feet. This means that people wearing masks would still be safe from the virus even if they are closer to each other.
The study, which was published in the journal - Clinical Infectious Diseases, examined and compared the rate of COVID-19 cases among students and teachers of different public high schools in Massachusetts. In these schools, masks were compulsory but social distancing norms varied as per the school requirement, according to The Times of India.
The researchers examined data from 251 Massachusetts school districts that included 5,37,336 students and 99,390 staff members over a period of 16 weeks from September 2020 to January 2021.
The researchers from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) determined that there is no significant difference in COVID-19 rates between schools that followed 3 feet social distancing norm and the schools which followed 6 feet distancing policy. This meant that wearing well-fitted masks can ensure safety from COVID-19 infection even while staying just 3 feet apart from others.
About their findings, lead author Dr Polly van der Berg said, "Prior studies have not directly compared the impact of different physical distancing policies among students attending in-person school. This research, which found no substantial difference in the number of cases among either students or staff in school districts that implemented a distancing policy of 3 versus 6 feet between students, is important because many school buildings have physical infrastructure that cannot accommodate 6 feet of distancing and bring all (or most) students back into the classroom."
A clinical investigator at VA Boston Healthcare System commented on the study saying that the data can be used to inform and update how infection control plans are implemented in a school setting, according to daily. "It is important to remember that distancing was just one of a number of interventions adopted in the districts included in our analysis. Across the districts included in our study, there was a near-universal masking mandate, thus our study addresses the question of the effectiveness of 3 versus 6 feet of distancing among students and staff who are wearing masks," the investigator added.