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The 6 ft 15 minute rule is bullshit


The NFL, which constantly collected data about COVID transmission so it could get through the season, concluded what I think should have been apparent for a while; the conventional guidelines for social distancing and time were grossly inadequate to protect from transmission in masked indoor settings:

The NFL was slowly discovering something far deeper: a core tenet of Covid-19 transmission wisdom—how to define when individuals are in “close contact”—was just wrong. 

The safety of interactions during this global pandemic had been for months measured by a stopwatch and a tape measure. The guidance was that someone had been exposed to the virus if they had been within six feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes. It was drilled into everyone for so long it became coronavirus gospel. 

But that wasn’t proving true during the NFL’s outbreaks. People were testing positive for the virus even though they had spent far less than 15 minutes or weren’t within six feet of an infectious person—and the league had the contact-tracing technology to prove it. 

“That was a wake-up call,” said Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer. “We had to be more precise in our definition of high-risk close contacts because clearly transmission could occur outside those basic boundaries of time and distance.”

The league’s finding is the critical reason why the NFL got through its regular season playing all 256 games and made it all the way to the upcoming Super Bowl on Feb. 7, between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs, as scheduled.


But it was the NFL that had enough data to indicate something even bigger. There were still those seven cases where even the cumulative interactions were under 15 minutes—and the virus was still transmitted. 

It also wasn’t simply time. It was distance, too. The virus, in some instances, traveled farther than six feet—especially in small, poorly ventilated areas. And masks, more than the duration of contact, seemed to matter a lot.

From then on, the NFL moved away from “within six feet for more than 15 minutes” as its defensive posture or its exposure rule. Those who were exposed had to spend five days testing negative in isolation in order to return. 

In related news, being open for indoor dining before the virus is suppressed is indefensible, capacity restrictions or no.

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