Social distancing means standing 6 feet apart. Here's what that actually looks like

We've been advised to stand 6 feet apart from others to lower our risk of getting infected with the coronavirus. But how can we tell whether we're standing just far away enough from people, or if we need to tell them to back up a little bit more?

Posted: Mar 24, 2020 6:23 PM
Updated: Mar 24, 2020 6:50 PM

We've been advised to stand 6 feet apart from others to lower our risk of getting infected with the coronavirus.

But how can we tell whether we're standing just far away enough from people, or if we need to tell them to back up a little bit more?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes social distancing as "remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible."

Why? When someone coughs or sneezes, small drops of liquid spray from their nose or mouth. If you're standing too close, you can breathe in the droplets, which may contain the coronavirus if the person coughing is infected, according to the World Health Organization.

The "6 feet of distance" rule comes from studies of respiratory physiology, said Dr. William Schaffner, infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University.

"Without a cough or a sneeze, if we exhale, the distance 3 to 6 feet from each other is called the breathing zone. And it's in that kind of volume of air that what I exhale begins to mix with the air that's already in the room," Schaffner said. "So if you're standing within 3 to 6 feet of me, you may well inhale some of what I exhale. And of course if I have the virus, what I'm exhaling microscopically contains the virus."

If you're finding it hard to estimate what exactly 6 feet looks like, we've got a list of animals, people and things you can keep in mind to help you judge the appropriate distance you should keep from other people.

Two Golden Retrievers standing nose to tail

The average Golden Retriever has a body length of 37 to 42 inches. Two of these dogs should amount to just over 72 inches, or 6 feet.

A man wearing a top hat

A man of average height stands at 5 feet 9 inches tall -- if that man wears a President Abraham Lincoln-esque top hat, he'd be just over the distance we're advised to keep from others.

An average sedan

Think of the width of your car when trying to gauge an appropriate distance -- an average large sedan is a little more than 6 feet wide.

A sofa

A standard three-seat sofa can be up to 6 feet long -- which means that you and the person sitting on the other end of it probably aren't far away enough from each other.

A dining room table

Try imagining you and your friend sitting across from each other at a long, fancy dining table -- some of them stretch 6 feet across.

The length of a mattress

The lengths of full- and twin-size beds are about 6.2 feet from top to bottom.

A moose's antlers

A moose grows to be between 5 and 6.5 feet tall on average. That height doesn't include its antlers, which can measure 6 feet across, according to National Geographic.

Two adult cats

Cat lovers may find it easy to commit this comparison to memory: Two male adult cats, at 35 inches each from their heads to the tips of their tails, can amount to nearly 72 inches.

A door

A door should be relatively easy to find when questioning whether you and your friend should move farther apart. Six feet is a little shorter than the average modern door, which runs from 78 to 80 inches.

A 6-foot long bathtub

A more relaxing comparison: Some bathtubs are 72 inches long.

It's not just about distance

Though it's important to distance ourselves from others right now, you can relax a little in your own home.

"I think within our own households we have to essentially do the best that we can," said Allison Chamberlain, a research assistant epidemiology professor in epidemiology at Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health. "Obviously everyone is in a different living scenario and has a different amount of space that they can distance themselves from people living within their own homes."

We should still, however, be aware of our habits regarding sneezing and coughing no matter who we're around, Chamberlain said.

You should make sure that you, and the people around you, follow what the WHO calls "good respiratory hygiene." This means you should cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or the crook of your arm when you cough or sneeze, then throw away the tissue immediately.

"What we're doing is trying to enforce the 6-feet-plus rule, if you will, by asking everybody to stay home who can stay home," Schaffner said. "On occasion, when people cough or sneeze, they give their exhalation -- and sometimes that can travel more than 6 feet. But just to be practical, that's what the rule has become.

"That's what people can get in their minds and work on knowing that we don't live in a perfect universe and we're not going to wrap ourselves in plastic," Schaffner continued.

By heeding these precautionary measures, you have a greater chance of protecting yourself and others not only from the coronavirus, but from cold and flu, too.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 118322

Reported Deaths: 3591
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion21502767
Lake10688323
Elkhart6707111
St. Joseph6619113
Allen6330205
Hamilton4938109
Vanderburgh378131
Hendricks2766124
Monroe265536
Tippecanoe256613
Johnson2352124
Clark225957
Porter219947
Delaware200162
Cass19559
Vigo186827
Madison170375
LaPorte149141
Floyd139664
Warrick138242
Howard132663
Kosciusko125917
Bartholomew118457
Marshall101524
Dubois99919
Boone99146
Grant95134
Hancock94643
Noble93132
Henry81226
Jackson7739
Wayne77014
Morgan73438
Daviess68028
Shelby68029
Dearborn67528
LaGrange64011
Clinton62314
Harrison59224
Putnam58411
Gibson5355
Knox5289
Lawrence51629
Montgomery51121
DeKalb48811
White48714
Decatur45939
Miami4394
Greene42735
Fayette42313
Jasper4012
Scott39011
Steuben3907
Posey3460
Sullivan33812
Jennings31612
Franklin31325
Clay3085
Ripley3078
Orange28824
Whitley2826
Carroll27813
Adams2763
Wabash2728
Starke2717
Washington2701
Wells2674
Spencer2633
Jefferson2503
Huntington2473
Fulton2442
Tipton22822
Randolph2238
Perry22113
Jay1920
Newton17411
Owen1711
Martin1680
Pike1641
Rush1574
Vermillion1310
Fountain1292
Blackford1213
Pulaski1141
Crawford1100
Parke1072
Brown1043
Benton870
Ohio797
Union790
Switzerland690
Warren411
Unassigned0226

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 151802

Reported Deaths: 4746
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin27119607
Cuyahoga17554656
Hamilton13237315
Montgomery7938164
Lucas7343364
Butler6085111
Summit5366252
Warren311549
Marion311147
Mahoning3095281
Stark2913175
Pickaway267944
Lorain233386
Delaware230621
Fairfield213253
Licking194963
Columbiana194080
Wood192172
Trumbull1916132
Clark183940
Clermont174423
Lake164851
Greene149034
Medina147539
Miami146351
Allen146269
Portage116866
Mercer113218
Erie95947
Tuscarawas94120
Wayne94068
Richland92219
Ross89624
Madison84312
Darke80643
Geauga72649
Athens7242
Belmont72427
Hancock72010
Lawrence67122
Ashtabula66048
Shelby66010
Putnam61923
Auglaize6119
Sandusky58020
Huron5557
Union5512
Scioto5167
Seneca48814
Ottawa47130
Preble44515
Muskingum4383
Holmes3959
Jefferson3384
Henry33414
Defiance33012
Champaign3133
Logan3133
Clinton30213
Perry3009
Brown2922
Knox28815
Washington26223
Jackson2616
Morrow2612
Fulton2591
Hardin25713
Crawford2476
Ashland2464
Coshocton23411
Fayette2336
Highland2303
Williams2143
Wyandot21312
Pike2020
Gallia19613
Meigs17610
Guernsey1738
Hocking1679
Carroll1527
Adams1364
Van Wert1243
Monroe11018
Paulding1100
Harrison643
Morgan500
Vinton473
Noble340
Unassigned00
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