How far can a cough really travel?

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are diligently washing our hands, practicing social distancing, and making sure to remain six feet apart from people if we have to venture outside of our homes, per CDC recommendations. The key here is to stay far enough from other people that we can avoid the transmission of coronavirus.

Avoiding close contact with others is a good way to cut down on the spread of the virus, as coughs, which can carry COVID-19 and play a big role in the transmission of respiratory illnesses, can travel pretty far. Just how far can a cough travel? 

Coughs and sneezes can travel several feet

According to a study conducted by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (via Gulf News), a cough can travel as far as 1.8 meters. For those of you who aren't familiar with the metric system, that's 5.9 feet — just a hair away from the six feet we are supposed to be keeping from other people during this pandemic. A cough can travel as fast as 80 kilometers (49.7 miles) per hour.

A sneeze can travel an even greater distance than a cough. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (per Science Focus) found that droplets from sneezes can travel as far as eight meters (26.2 feet). Even more frightening is that droplets from coughs and sneezes can linger in the air for as long as 10 minutes before landing on nearby surfaces where viruses present can live for days.

The recommendation to stay six feet apart from other people is a good one, but limiting close contact with other people as much as possible is much safer. If you do find yourself having to break social distancing for an important errand like visiting the doctor or going to the grocery store, it's especially important to wash your hands regularly and avoid touching your face. Also remember to cough or sneeze into a tissue and to discard the used tissue properly.