weather icon Clear

OPINION: Six feet under

During a run over the weekend, I approached a couple walking in front of me. They appeared to be in their mid- to late-60s and had just crossed a somewhat busy 10-lane highway in southwestern Florida.

But apparently my looming presence posed a lethal threat to the couple: As I came closer, the two nearly lept into a row of hedges to avoid any chance they would share air space with me for more than three seconds. They bolted in a panic as if I were wielding a flaming machete.

What would prompt otherwise sane people to act so irrationally?

The explanation, of course, is the six-feet “social distancing” policy recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. What initially sounded like reasonable suggestions — keep some space between yourself and someone exhibiting symptoms, don’t touch your face, stay home if you’re sick — have devolved into a nearly comical world where people dive off sidewalks to avoid a momentary invasion of their six-feet perimeter from clearly healthy countrymen.

So precisely what is the science driving this mad world of shuttered public beaches, stormtrooper cops ticketing churchgoers sitting in their own cars and duct-taped boxes in checkout lines to instruct shoppers where to stand?

It turns out there is little verifiable evidence to support this government-imposed safe space: The CDC’s COVID-19 guidance portal is disturbingly vague about the policy.

The virus, the agency states, is “thought” to spread from person-to-person like this:

■ Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).

■ Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks.

■ These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

■ Some recent studies have suggested that COVID-19 may be spread by people who are not showing symptoms.

■ Maintaining good social distance (about 6 feet) is very important in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Do those bullet points sound convincing enough to deny families the ability to gather for holidays or for kids to play a game of pickup basketball or for a loved one to hold the hand of a dying relative in hospice care? No, they don’t. In fact, the more you read, the more dubious the “guidance” sounds.

The agency says it’s “possible” for someone to contract COVID-19 by “touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes.” But even that assumption, which has led to a shortage of bleach and sanitizing wipes and hand soap across the country, “is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”

And the commonly held fear that a random passerby will infect a stranger? Here’s more grade-school level talk from the CDC: “COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly through close contact from person-to-person in respiratory droplets from someone who is infected. People who are infected often have symptoms of illness. Some people without symptoms may be able to spread the virus.” I am pretty sure the average eighth-grade science teacher would take a big red pen to that passage. “Thought.” “Some”? “May”? Keep in mind, there are no links to any scientific studies or papers to review to decide whether those claims are legitimate.

The CDC also can’t quite make up its mind about the safety of large gatherings. In mid-March, the agency asked Americans to limit gatherings of 250 people or more. A few weeks later, the White House, at the behest of the CDC, urged Americans to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people. There is no science, however, to support either number. (Why not 175? Why not 16 or 17?)

Even that fuzzy advice has been bastardized by the petty tyrant lurking inside every big state governor, small-town mayor, and homeowners’ association president. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has banned people from going to a neighbor’s house.

So from where did the “six-feet” rule originate? Apparently, according to a report in The New York Times, the strategy “saved thousands of lives both during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 and, more recently, in Mexico City during the 2009 flu pandemic.”

No doubt scientists are scrambling to justify the rule. A few early studies suggest that contaminated droplets could stay airborne for a few hours and pose a risk. But that research comes with a caveat: “While this research indicates that viral particles can be spread via bioaerosols, the authors stated that finding infectious virus has proven elusive and experiments are ongoing to determine viral activity in collected samples,” wrote Dr. Harvey Fineberg from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine earlier this month.

So it’s unclear why Americans are being instructed to heed the six-foot space. But there is something ironic about the distance: Our economy, our rights, our freedoms and our sense of security are being buried amid this panic. Government decrees make up a figurative graveyard of stolen futures and livelihoods.

And sadly, even those who have succumbed to this painful disease cannot be properly mourned because funerals have been banned. Some died alone without the comfort of a loved one due to the cruelty of the “social distancing” policy.

There will be plenty of soul-searching after this crisis abates. Demanding to know the scientific rationale for keeping us six feet apart when people needed each other most should be at the top of the list.

Julie Kelly is a columnist for American Greatness (american greatness.com) where a version of this essay originally appeared.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
LETTER: Sonia Sotomayor, retirement and race

Using race to justify or condemn the action of others is simply wrong and, some would say, the definition of racism. We are all one people.

LETTER: Is there another Joe Biden out there?

Both the front-runner presidential candidates should step aside and give us some choices who are younger and have fresh ideas to get us out of the $35 trillion debt.

CLARENCE PAGE: MAGA crowd not worried about evangelical unrest

Clearly, some of Trump’s statements in recent months have driven a wedge between his campaign and religious voters, particularly those all-important evangelicals.