Are you torn between the clear and obvious productivity and strategy benefits of reduced distancing and that niggling feeling in your mind that 2m feels significantly safer than 1m? We are too – It is a balancing act; and understanding the scientific evidence and the mechanics of transmission can give you the power to make key, individualised decisions. This is not a one size fits all situation. What should you make of the social distancing rules?

Getting the evidence

When establishing government or organisational policy for something novel e.g. SARS-CoV-2, much of the guidance is initially based on anecdotal reports and expert opinion – rather than data derived. The scientific community also try to apply models for other similar established diseases – notably SARS (the original) and Influenza. Nevertheless, we are gathering more information every day and the statistics we base opinion on are becoming more and more robust.

‘Prevention is better than cure’

Transmission prevention guidance for all diseases is based on the specific disease’s ‘mode of transmission.’ For example; the famous “catch it, bin it, kill it” slogan is based around the respiratory large droplet spread for influenza. On the other hand, “Chlamydia – hard to say, easy to catch – use a condom” is the slogan used in this case, for obvious reasons.

CV-19 transmission theory

The initial assumptions made back in the early days of the pandemic were that contact with contaminated surfaces (fomites) and large droplets were the most significant causes of virus spreading. There are growing calls to acknowledge the greater importance of other airborne particles, and indeed the WHO finally has. Aerosols (much smaller airborne particles) are now thought to also be generated during respiratory secretions – (coughing, sneezing, breathing) as when the droplet evaporates/vaporises they become tiny INVISIBLE aerosols.

Why does this matter? Well, it matters because if we are only protecting against one mode of transmission – for example, stressing the importance of hand washing; and failing to protect against others, for example not socially distancing appropriately then organisations, and indeed the country, will inevitably run into trouble. We should be trying to mitigate against all modes of transmission, where possible, in a non-prohibitive, pragmatic but robust way.

There is a lot more to it than a simple distance. The virus does not just stop and drop at the 2m sign. In fact, if the conditions are right then aerosols can travel for tens of metres and linger in the air for many hours. Organisations must know what the conditions for transmission are like in their environments. For example – a board room with no windows, an air-conditioner that recycles the same air, face to face working, and heated conversation will be risky whatever distance you sit as the particles will linger in the air – so more must be considered.

Conclusion

There is far too much complexity to go into here – and the key message is – Do not rely on the blanket government guidance – it will cost you more in the long run as they inevitably shift their policy to play catch up. You need to analyse your individual environment and apply the science. Then you must make a rational, informed and evidence-based decision on how much risk mitigation you can do and the ways to do it. And if I am being honest – you should just contact us and we can help you out with it – it is what we are trained to do.

 

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