Hockey sticks, sturgeons and skis: How much is enough physical distance?

From hockey sticks in Canada to downhill skis in Colorado, health officials are searching for relatable ways to urge people to keep a safe distance, in a global effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Two metres (6 feet, 6 inches) of separation is seen as critical to preventing transmission of the virus, but with few people carrying tape measures, rules of thumb have become important.

“Stay two metres apart. It’s not such a difficult thing,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote on Twitter this week. But by Friday, he was self-isolating after testing positive for the coronavirus.

The City of Toronto posted signs in parks this week urging residents to stay one hockey stick apart, evoking the country’s passion for the game. Some ice hockey aficionados took to social media to quibble with the comparison – stick lengths vary depending on the position one is playing, they argued.

In nature-loving Oregon, standing back about “one mature white sturgeon” should do it, the U.S. state’s fish and wildlife department wrote on Twitter.

A safe distance is the length of one beach towel, according to the Sarasota county government in Florida; or you might follow the guidance of the City of Calgary, Alberta, who suggested a “big llama.”

The span of a set of downhill skis in the Rocky Mountain state of Colorado is a good safeguard, its public health department said.

Some comparisons may miss a broader audience. Five closed drip torches – a fuel canister with a handle that firefighters use – is enough safe distance, tweeted a Michigan organization that promotes using fire for ecological management.

But is two metres actually enough?

Not even close, a study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concluded this week. Coughs and sneezes can generate clouds of viral droplets of seven to eight metres, it said. Or roughly four hockey sticks.

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