What is suitable social distancing for people wearing face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Zhipeng Deng, Qingyan Chen

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


COVID-19 has caused the global pandemic and had a serious impact on people's daily lives. The respiratory droplets produced from coughing and talking of an infected patient were possible transmission routes of coronavirus between people. To avoid the infection, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised to wear face masks while maintaining a social distancing of 2 m. Can the social distancing be reduced if people wear masks? To answer this question, we measured the mass of inhaled droplets by a susceptible manikin wearing a mask with different social distances, which was produced by coughing and talking of an index “patient” (human subject) also wearing a mask. We also used the computational fluid dynamics (CFD) technology with a porous media model and particle dispersion model to simulate the transmission of droplets from the patient to the susceptible person with surgical and N95 masks. We compared the CFD results with the measured velocity in the environmental chamber and found that the social distancing could be reduced to 0.5 m when people wearing face masks. In this case, the mass concentration of inhaled particles was less than two people without wearing masks and with a social distancing of 2 m. Hence, when the social distancing was difficult, wearing masks could protect people. We also found that the leakage between the face mask and the human face played an important role in the exhaled airflow pattern and particle dispersion. The verified numerical model can be used for more scenarios with different indoor environments and HVAC systems. The results of this study would make business profitable with reduced social distancing in transportation, education, and entertainment industries, which was beneficial for the reopening of the economy.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12935
JournalIndoor Air
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Building and Construction
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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