The efficacy of social distance and ventilation effectiveness in preventing COVID-19 transmission. Journal Article uri icon



  • Social distancing and ventilation were emphasized broadly to control the ongoing pandemic COVID-19 in confined spaces. Rationales behind these two strategies, however, were debated, especially regarding quantitative recommendations. The answers to "what is the safe distance" and "what is sufficient ventilation" are crucial to the upcoming reopening of businesses and schools, but rely on many medical, biological, and engineering factors. This study introduced two new indices into the popular while perfect-mixing-based Wells-Riley model for predicting airborne virus related infection probability - the underlying reasons for keeping adequate social distance and space ventilation. The distance index Pd can be obtained by theoretical analysis on droplet distribution and transmission from human respiration activities, and the ventilation index Ez represents the system-dependent air distribution efficiency in a space. The study indicated that 1.6-3.0 m (5.2-9.8 ft) is the safe social distance when considering aerosol transmission of exhaled large droplets from talking, while the distance can be up to 8.2 m (26 ft) if taking into account of all droplets under calm air environment. Because of unknown dose response to COVID-19, the model used one actual pandemic case to calibrate the infectious dose (quantum of infection), which was then verified by a number of other existing cases with short exposure time (hours). Projections using the validated model for a variety of scenarios including transportation vehicles and building spaces illustrated that (1) increasing social distance (e.g., halving occupancy density) can significantly reduce the infection rate (20-40 %) during the first 30 min even under current ventilation practices; (2) minimum ventilation or fresh air requirement should vary with distancing condition, exposure time, and effectiveness of air distribution systems.

publication date

  • November 1, 2020

has restriction

  • bronze

Date in CU Experts

  • August 26, 2020 1:37 AM

Full Author List

  • Sun C; Zhai Z

author count

  • 2

Other Profiles

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 2210-6715

Additional Document Info

start page

  • 102390


  • 62