News-Miner opinion: Six feet. Or, for the metric lovers among you, that’s 1.8 meters. Or 183 centimeters.
Football fans can think of it as two yards, meaning there’s still eight more to go for another first down.
Alaska hunters can think of it this way: A trophy moose with an antler spread of 72 inches.
All of us, though, should think about that distance right now in this way: the length of the space we need to keep between ourselves and other people. It’s one of the key ways in which we are going to defeat the spreading coronavirus and the nasty, sometimes fatal, COVID-19 disease that it causes.
Why 6 feet apart? Because the moisture droplets we exhale when we cough or breath, and which might be carrying the coronavirus, don’t travel that far and therefore can’t reach the nose, mouth or eyes of another person.
Does it work? The evidence says it does, according to health officials.
A 2007 study by the National Academy of Sciences, for example, looked at how various communities responded to the 1918 “Spanish flu” influenza pandemic. Communities that took strong early action fared better.
In one striking example, the study looked at the approaches taken by the cities of Philadelphia and St. Louis when the 1918 pandemic reached each.
“The first cases of disease among civilians in Philadelphia were reported on Sept. 17, 1918, but authorities downplayed their significance and allowed large public gatherings, notably a citywide parade on Sept. 28, 1918, to continue,” the study reads. “School closures, bans on public gatherings, and other social distancing interventions were not implemented until Oct. 3, when disease spread had already begun to overwhelm local medical and public health resources.
“In contrast, the first cases of disease among civilians in St. Louis were reported on Oct. 5, and authorities moved rapidly to introduce a broad series of measures designed to promote social distancing, implementing these on Oct. 7. The difference in response times between the two cities (≈14 days, when measured from the first reported cases) represents approximately three to five doubling times for an influenza epidemic. The costs of this delay appear to have been significant; by the time Philadelphia responded, it faced an epidemic considerably larger than the epidemic St. Louis faced.”
Now, in 2020, let’s be like the St. Louis of 1918.
Social distancing, coupled with other measures to severely limit physical interaction in the population, works.
But it only works if people do it. That means all of us, even the young and fit who might feel the COVID-19 disease is something that only older people need to worry about, especially given that, as of Wednesday, no one age 19 and under in the U.S. has died from the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It’s just as important that those younger and fitter people among us participate in social distancing. That’s because a young person might only develop mild symptoms of COVID-19 and, not recognizing it as such, dismiss it as no more than an annoyance and continue socializing — and spreading the virus.
Young or not so young, healthy and somewhat healthy, we all need to heed the message:
Be smart, stay 6 feet apart.