The novel coronavirus has prompted social distancing measures around the world. One researcher believes what’s being done isn’t enough.

The current physical distancing guidelines provided by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may not be adequate to curb the coronavirus spread, according to a research which says the gas cloud from a cough or sneeze may help virus particles travel up to 8 metres.

Study author, MIT associate professor Lydia Bourouiba, warned that droplets of all sizes can travel 23 to 27 feet, or 7-8 metres, carrying the pathogen.

According to Bourouiba, the current guidelines are based on “arbitrary” assumptions of droplet size, “overly simplified”, and “may limit the effectiveness of the proposed interventions” against the deadly pandemic.

She explained that the old guidelines assume droplets to be one of two categories, small or large, taking short-range semi-ballistic trajectories when a person exhales, coughs, or sneezes.

The idea that droplets “hit a virtual wall and stop there and after that we are safe,” is not based on evidence found in her research, Bourouiba said, and also not based on “evidence that we have about COVID transmission.”

Bourouiba argued that a “gaseous cloud” that can carry droplets of all sizes is emitted when a person coughs, sneezes or otherwise exhales. The cloud is only partially mitigated by sneezing or coughing into your elbow, she added.

“Under these conditions, the lifetime of a droplet could be considerably extended by a factor of up to 1000, from a fraction of a second to minutes,” the researcher explained in the study.

The MIT scientist, who has researched the dynamics of coughs and sneezes for years, added that these droplets settle along the trajectory of a cough or sneeze contaminating surfaces, with their residues staying suspended in the air for hours.

“Even when maximum containment policies were enforced, the rapid international spread of COVID-19 suggests that using arbitrary droplet size cutoffs may not accurately reflect what actually occurs with respiratory emissions, possibly contributing to the ineffectiveness of some procedures used to limit the spread of respiratory disease,” Bourouiba wrote in the study.