Six Feet Is Not Enough and 15 Minutes Is Too Long

The coronavirus ignores this outdated social distancing measure

Robert Roy Britt
Elemental
Published in
6 min readOct 23, 2020

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Photo: Orbon Alija/Getty Images

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just updated its definition of “close contact” with a person infected with Covid-19 — wording that should influence how all of us think about social distancing, and which will change who gets traced and notified when someone tests positive. “Close contact” had been defined as 15 continuous minutes or more within six feet of an infectious individual, whether or not either person wore a mask and regardless of whether the contact occurred indoors or outside, though the CDC says those are important factors that affect transmission.

The new definition: 15 minutes or more of cumulative exposure to infectious individuals, within six feet, in a 24-hour period — such as three five-minute exposures — still regardless of masking and whether the contact was inside or outdoors.

The new recommendation was announced October 21, the same day the CDC published a case study of a correctional officer in Vermont thought to have caught the coronavirus via 22 brief encounters, within six feet of various infected inmates, all adding up to 17 minutes of exposure during an eight-hour shift.

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Robert Roy Britt
Elemental

Editor of Aha! and Wise & Well on Medium + the Writer's Guide at writersguide.substack.com. Author of Make Sleep Your Superpower: amazon.com/dp/B0BJBYFQCB