Staying 6 feet apart indoors isn’t enough to stop the spread of COVID-19, MIT study finds

social distancing restaurants
People eating behind individual plastic screens at a restaurant in Bangkok on May 8.

  • The widely used 6-foot rule is too little to stop COVID-9 exposure indoors, MIT researchers found.
  • The risk of exposure from an infected person is similar at 6 feet and 60 feet, one researcher said.
  • The study said mask-wearing, ventilation, and what a space is used for were bigger variables.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The widely used rule of staying 6 feet away from others does little to affect the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in indoor spaces, according to a new study out of MIT.

According to MIT researchers, the rule is based on an outdated understanding of how the coronavirus moves in closed spaces.

They said other variables – like the number of people in a space, whether they wear masks, what they are doing, and the level of ventilation – were much more important.

The 6-foot rule is used in various forms around the world: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises 6 feet of separation indoors and outdoors, while in the UK the figure is 2 meters. In much of Europe, the figure is 1 meter, which is also recommended as a minimum distance by the World Health Organization.

Such distancing rules are easy to remember and can protect from transmission of the virus in close contact. But, per the new study, they may not be that useful to predict the risk of exposure.

The study was released online ahead of its publication in the peer-reviewed journal PNAS on Tuesday.

It says a better way of controlling indoor exposure is to do individual calculations based on variables for that space.

In some cases, the exposure level might be the same at 6 feet as at 60 feet, one of the study authors has said.

Martin Bazant and John Bush, both MIT professors in applies mathematics, developed a formula to estimate how long it would take for a person to hit dangerous levels of exposure from one infected person entering a room.

The calculation is more sophisticated version of the traffic-light system previously proposed by MIT. It takes into account the number of people in the room, the size of the space, what they are doing, whether masks are being worn, and what kind of ventilation is in place.

Using this calculation, it could be that the level of exposure is high in some spaces even if people are more than 6 feet away. It could also be lower than expected.

“The distancing isn’t helping you that much, and it’s also giving you a false sense of security because you’re as safe at 6 feet as you are at 60 feet if you’re indoors. Everyone in that space is at roughly the same risk, actually,” Bazant told CNBC.

Scientific understanding of how the coronavirus moves in the air has challenged earlier assumptions about how best to adapt to minimize its spread.

At the beginning of the pandemic, it was widely believed that the virus traveled only via heavier droplets ejected during exhalation, sneezing, or speaking.

But evidence has long suggested that the virus also floats around on lighter aerosol droplets that can stay suspended in the air and travel much farther than first thought.

In their calculation, the MIT researchers took into account the effect of having people in the room, and their behavior, on how long the virus would stay suspended in the air.

In a calm environment, these particles would slowly drift to the ground, the researchers said in their study.

But in an environment in which the air is moving around the room and people are talking, eating, singing, and sneezing, the drops can be suspended in the airflow and mixed throughout the room longer.

The effect can be counteracted by ventilation or filtration to get the virus particles out of circulation in the room.

A website made available by the researchers shows how this model works in different scenarios.

For example, if an infected person walks into a classroom hosting 25 people, none wearing masks and all speaking, everyone would be at risk from the coronavirus within 36 minutes, the website says. It doesn’t matter if they follow the 6-foot rule.

By contrast, if all 25 people in that room were wearing a mask, the air would be safe to breathe for 20 hours, it said.

If they were all singing without a mask, they be at risk from the virus within three minutes.

Public-health bodies have started to acknowledge that the 6-foot rule is not a catchall. In March, the CDC advised that the 6-foot rule could be brought down to 3 feet in K-12 schools.

This weekend, the CDC also updated social-distancing guidance for children in summer camps, saying they can be within 3 feet of one another except when eating or drinking.

It also suggested that disinfection of surfaces might not be necessary in public spaces, urging an end to what some have called “hygiene theater.”

As for rules dictating social distancing outdoors, Bazant said they are “kind of crazy,” CNBC reported. The infected air “would be swept away,” Bazant said, making the rule irrelevant.

Unless the space outdoors is crowded, Bazant said, he would feel comfortable being as close as 3 feet even without masks.

Experts have told Insider that when it is possible to stay more than 6 feet away from people, wearing a mask outside is not always necessary.

Editor’s note: The headline and text of this article were amended on April 28, 2021, to better reflect the MIT study. Claims attributed to MIT researchers that 6ft distancing does “little” or “almost nothing” to prevent COVID-19 exposure were amended to claims that such distancing is “not enough” to prevent it.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Staying 6 feet apart indoors does almost nothing to stop the spread of COVID-19, MIT study finds

social distancing restaurants
People eat behind individual plastic screens at a restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand, on May 8, 2020.

  • The widely-used 6 ft rule does little to prevent COVID-9 exposure indoors, MIT researchers found.
  • The risk of exposure from an infected person is similar at 6 ft and 60 ft, one researcher said.
  • The study said that mask-wearing, ventilation, and what a space is used for are bigger variables.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The widely-used rule of staying 6ft away from others does little to affect the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in indoor spaces, according to a new study out of MIT.

According to MIT researchers, the rule is based on an outdated understanding of how the coronavirus moves in closed spaces.

They said other variables – like the number of people in a space, whether they wear masks, what they are doing, and the level of ventilation – are much more important.

The 6ft rule is used in various forms around the world: the CDC advises 6 ft separation indoors and outdoors, while in the UK the figure is two meters. In much of Europe, the figure is one meter, which is also recommended as a minimum distance by the World Health Organization.

But while such distancing rules are easy to remember, and purport to suit any situation, the new study says they may not be that useful.

The study was released online ahead of its publication in the peer-reviewed journal PNAS on April 27.

It says that a better way of controlling indoor exposure is to do individual calculations based on variables for that space.

In some cases, the exposure level might be the same at 6 ft than at 60 ft, one of the study authors has said.

Mark Bazant and John Bush, both MIT professors in applies mathematics, developed a formula to estimate how long it would take for a person to hit dangerous levels of exposure from one infected person entering a room.

The calculation is more sophisticated version of the traffic light system previously proposed by MIT. It takes into account the number of people in the room, the space of the size, what they are doing, whether masks are being worn, and what kind of ventilation is in place.

Using this calculation, it could be that the level of exposure is high in some spaces even if people are more than 6 ft away. It could also be lower than expected.

“The distancing isn’t helping you that much and it’s also giving you a false sense of security because you’re as safe at 6 ft as you are at 60 ft if you’re indoors. Everyone in that space is at roughly the same risk, actually,” Bazant told CNBC.

Scientific understanding of how the coronavirus moves in the air has challenged earlier assumptions about how best to adapt to minimize its spread.

At the beginning of the pandemic, it was widely believe that the virus travelled via droplets ejected during exhalation, sneezing, or speaking.

But newer evidence strongly suggests that the virus instead floats around on lighter aerosol droplets that can stay suspended in the air and travel much further than first thought.

In their calculation, the MIT researchers took into account the effect of having people in the room, and their behavior, on how long the virus would stay suspended in the air.

In a calm environment, these particles would slowly drift to the ground, the researchers said in their study.

But in an environment where the air is moving around the room and people are talking, eating, singing, and sneezing, the drops can be suspended in the airflow and mixed throughout the room longer.

The effect can be counteracted by ventilation or filtration to get the virus particles out of circulation in the room.

A website made available by the researchers shows how this model works in different scenarios

For example, if an infected person walks into a classroom hosting 25 people, none wearing masks and all speaking, everyone would be at risk from the coronavirus within 36 minutes, the website says. It doesn’t matter if they follow the 6 ft rule.

By contrast, if all 25 people in that room were wearing a mask, the air would be safe to breathe for 20 hours, it said.

If they were all singing without a mask, they be at risk from the virus within 3 minutes.

Public health bodies have started to acknowledge that the 6 ft rule is not a catch-all. In March, the CDC advised that the 6 ft rule could be brought down to 3 ft in K-12 schools.

This weekend, the CDC also updated social distancing rules for children in summer camps stating that they can be within 3 ft of each other, except when eating or drinking.

It also suggested that disinfection of surfaces might not be necessary in public spaces, urging an end to what some have called “hygiene theater.”

As for rules dictating social distancing outdoors, Bazant said they are “kind of crazy,” CNBC reported. The infected air “would be swept away,” Bazant said, making the rule irrelevant.

Unless the space outdoors is crowded, Bazant said he would feel comfortable being as close as 3 ft even without masks

Experts have told Insider that when it is possible to stay more than 6 ft away from people, wearing a mask outside is not always necessary.

Read the original article on Business Insider

7 tech tips for outdoor dining safely in the remaining months of the pandemic

Outdoor dining
You can use these tech tips to ensure your safety while outdoor dining.

  • Outdoor dining can have an extra layer of safety from standard COVID precautions with the assistance of several tech tools.
  • COVID exposure notifications, social distancing apps, and Google Maps can help keep you stick more closely to CDC guidelines about personal and social activities.
  • Restaurant apps like CareFull, QR codes, and contactless payment can help you stay alert and abiding by social distance guidelines.
  • Regardless of what tech you use, you should always follow established COVID-19 safety precautions when outdoor dining.
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

As your list of vaccinated acquaintances grows, so, too, may the urge to eat with them.

Of course, outdoor dining has been an option for some during the pandemic, and it still is. But with warm weather around the corner and loosening COVID-19 restrictions, opportunities for al fresco dining might be more frequent and tempting. That’s why staying safe if you choose to dine outdoors (or order for pickup) is more important than ever.

Research published by the CDC has shown that opening restaurants to on-premises dining, including outdoor spaces, was linked to increased COVID-19 rates in the months following. Another investigation of 11 US healthcare facilities in 2020 found that COVID-19 positive adults were twice as likely as those who tested negative to have eaten at a restaurant in the two weeks before their illness cropped up.

Still, there are ways to stay safer when choosing outdoor dining.

Outdoor dining safety tips

Not dining out is the safest option of all, and sure enough, the CDC recommends avoiding events and gatherings altogether. But they also break down the safety of dining scenarios by varying degrees of risk.

Drive-thru, takeout, and delivery options are considered the lowest risk, while the highest risk goes to indoor dining on-premises with seating spaced less than six feet apart. Eating outdoors with tables spaced apart six feet falls somewhere in the middle.

While having food delivered to your home is safer than ordering for pickup or outdoor dining, if you opt to do outdoor dining or curbside pickup from a restaurant, here are some additional tools to help you stay safe.

Get COVID exposure notifications when outdoor dining

Covid exposure notifications
Use your smartphone to get COVID exposure notifications while you’re outdoor dining.

Several states have opted into partnerships with Apple and Google’s technology for COVID-19 contact tracing. Health authorities that use this application programming interface (API) have made their own Android apps, which you can find in the Google Play Store, if available in your area. Apple users have a more streamlined system thanks to the built-in COVID exposure notification tool for iOS devices.

If you download the app for your area or enable notifications on your iOS device, you must opt-in to the notification system. Once that’s done, your phone and the phones of others who have opted-in to the service communicate through Bluetooth using random, frequently changing IDs. The app continuously checks its list of IDs against the random IDs associated with positive COVID-19 cases.

When someone with an ID linked to a positive COVID-19 test is in your immediate area, you’ll be notified of your exposure with further guidance on how to stay safe. This is useful for knowing if you were exposed to someone with COVID-19 before making plans to eat out, as well as being alerted if you come into contact with someone during an outing.

Use social distance apps when waiting in a line for pickup or outdoor dining

Social Distancing
People in protective face masks social distancing while waiting in a line.

From the beginning of the pandemic, health authorities and experts have maintained that individuals not from the same household should remain six feet apart at all times. But what is six feet, anyway?

A handful of Android and iOS apps aim to help make that clearer, so while you’re waiting in line or even dining at a table, you know whether you’re keeping a safe distance – and others are keeping a safe distance from you. One such app for iOS users is Social Distance Training. Designed for students and teachers, this app can give a clearer picture of your proximity to someone, using a holographic person to create a virtual distance simulation. It won’t tell you in real-time how close you are to someone, but it does offer a sense of how far away six feet feels for when you are standing in a restaurant’s pickup line.

Android users may prefer to use Sodar by Google, which relies on WebXR on Chrome and your smartphone’s camera. Available only through Chrome on Android devices, this augmented reality tool creates a two-meter radius ring around you – using the recommended distance of at least six feet – to help you follow social distancing guidelines. Just go to the Sodar by Google website, use your phone to scan the QR code, and you’re ready to head out.

Find parks using Google Maps “Explore” to switch up your outdoor dining location

For those inclined to take “outdoor dining” literally, Google Maps is good for so many things – including finding a park to eat in safely once that pickup order is paid for.

If you’re in an unfamiliar place, Google Maps “Explore” feature can locate general categories of places nearby like “gas stations,” “post offices,” and yes, even “parks.” You can use it on the desktop site, or Android and iOS apps.

This feature isn’t available everywhere, but it can be a quick way to get out of a crowd for a quiet and socially distanced meal surrounded by nature. Here’s how to use it.

Use delivery apps and apps like CareFull

Carefull App 1
The CareFull app lets you sort restaurants by filter location and other filters, like outdoor dining availability.

If you’re lucky enough to live in the Greater Boston or NYC area, the newer CareFull app – available on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store – can help. Designed with COVID-safe eateries (and diners) in mind, CareFull lets you search for local establishments, see what safety precautions they’re taking, and read and leave safety reviews for any given restaurant. The user-friendly layout makes it easy to select a restaurant based on safety.

Carefull App 2
The CareFull App offers safety ratings for establishments you may visit.

If you don’t live in either of those two areas, consider ordering pick-up with a restaurant-friendly service like ChowNow. This platform doesn’t receive a commission on orders like other popular delivery apps, meaning more of your money goes directly to the local establishments you’re ordering from.

New Yorkers also have Spread, a newer commission-free food delivery service that saves for customers and restaurants. The app sends you texts with exclusive promotions from takeout and delivery restaurants in your neighborhood. You can then enter those promotions on the restaurant’s site – cutting out the extra service fees that come with delivery app alternatives.

Use QR codes to order while outdoor dining

Menu QR Codes
Women use a QR code to order lunch with their smart phone while outdoor dining.

Many might already be familiar with this kind of barcode, which a smartphone can scan for many purposes. Restaurants have put them into action on outdoor tables or in storefront windows for would-be diners to read menus – no contact with a physical menu passed through other’s hands needed. Some restaurants even allow for ordering right from the menu.

Newer models of Android and iPhone have QR scanners built into their camera apps. Here’s how to use it.

Choose contactless payment options while outdoor dining

Contactless Payment
A bar owner uses a contactless payment method to charge customer.

QR codes are handy, and contactless payment options with them are even handier. Some restaurants allow ordering and payment straight from the menu you’ve pulled up on your phone.

That includes credit cards like Apple Card or online payment systems like PayPal or Google Pay. Contactless payment minimizes the surfaces touched by a server handling a credit card or cash, keeping both parties safer. It’s also a precaution, like several of those listed, that you can verify ahead of time with a quick phone call.

Use UV light sanitizers to keep your outdoor dining flatware clean and avoid using plastics

Samsung UV C Phone Sanitizer
A Samsung UV Sterilizer can sanitize your phone, earbuds, glasses, and more.

If you want to cover all your bases in reducing risk while dining at a restaurant, you can take sanitization to the next level with a UV light sanitizer. It’s perfect for small items – cards, keys, sunglasses, even silverware – while you eat.

Enclosed, battery-operated UV light boxes meant for phones are generally the most effective and safe, with UV wands being less so.

How to scan QR codes with your Samsung Galaxy phone in 2 waysHow to order food from Google Maps for pickup or delivery, using a computer or mobile deviceHow to set up and use Apple Pay on your iPhone to make contactless payments at thousands of storesHow to set up and use Google Pay on your Android phone to make contactless payments at thousands of stores

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Which activities are safe once you’re fully vaccinated? Experts say movies, travel, and family gatherings are on the table.

A recently reopened movie theatre.
A recently reopened movie theater.

  • The US has authorized three COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Public-health experts say it’s probably safe for vaccinated people to meet for dinner or gather indoors.
  • Some experts think vaccinated people can even return to offices and movie theaters or see their unvaccinated grandkids.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

So you’ve received both doses of a coronavirus vaccine. Does life change a little – or a lot?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to release guidelines this week detailing how Americans can safely alter their behavior once they’re fully vaccinated. But the rules are complicated by a few unknowns – namely, the extent to which vaccinated people can pass the virus to others and the threat of contagious variants that may evade vaccine protection.

So far, Pfizer and Moderna’s clinical trials have only tested whether vaccines prevent symptomatic COVID-19 cases. But emerging evidence suggests the vaccines can reduce coronavirus transmission as well. Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 single-dose vaccine also seems effective at reducing transmission, according to recent data.

Without more research, however, public-health experts caution that vaccinated people should continue to wear masks and social distance in public. Here’s what seven experts think are safe activities for vaccinated people. 

Dinners with other vaccinated people are relatively low-risk

outdoor tent covid
Women sit inside a bubble tent at the Cafe Tirree in Berlin, Germany, on October 24, 2020.

Dinners with other vaccinated people, whether indoors or outdoors, are a relatively safe activity.

“If we’re going to gather, we should gather smart, which doesn’t mean to have a 200-person wedding with people that you don’t know right away,” Dr. Dara Kass, an emergency-medicine physician at Columbia Medical Center in New York, told Insider. “Start, maybe, going out to dinner with a couple that is vaccinated, or your parents, maybe seeing them for a nuclear family dinner that you have been avoiding.” 

In general, interactions between people who are fully vaccinated – or immune due to a previous infection – are relatively low-risk for all parties involved, according to Florian Krammer, a vaccinologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

“We need to be cautious and need to stay vigilant about risk,” he recently wrote. “But we should also allow people who have immunity to at least normalize some of their interactions.”

Small indoor gatherings aren’t such a bad idea, either

thanksgiving dinner
A family celebrates Thanksgiving on November 24, 2016 in Stamford, Connecticut.

At a White House press briefing on Monday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said “doubly vaccinated” people – those who have received both doses of either Pfizer or Moderna’s shots – can safely gather indoors in small groups.

“I use the example of a daughter coming in from out of town who is doubly vaccinated, and a husband and wife doubly vaccinated, and maybe a next-door neighbor who you know are doubly vaccinated,” he said. “The relative risk is so low that you would not have to wear a mask.”

The new CDC guidelines will also advise that vaccinated people can host small, at-home gatherings with other fully vaccinated people, two senior White House officials involved in drafting the rules told Politico.

Dr. Peter Hotez, a molecular virologist at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, said he plans to visit his two oldest children and their spouses for the first time in 14 months this weekend. All of them have either been vaccinated or contracted COVID-19, he wrote

Elderly people can see unvaccinated grandkids – with caveats

pfizer elderly UK
Husband and wife Vic and Penny Griffiths receive the Pfizer vaccine at Basildon University Hospital in Essex, England, on December 9, 2020.

Many elderly Americans have said they plan to see their children and grandchildren post-vaccination. If all adults in a family are vaccinated, such a gathering becomes “fairly low risk,” according to Dr. Céline Gounder, an infectious-disease physician at New York University. That’s because coronavirus infections are generally mild or asymptomatic in children

“What concerns me is the people who are not yet vaccinated,” Gounder told Insider. “For example, you have three generations in a family: vaccinated grandparents, but not children or adults. That could still be a real problem.”

Kass also said it’s probably safe for elderly, vaccinated people to see their unvaccinated grandkids.

“My parents are vaccinated, which means that my kids can go visit my parents with a sense of relief that we haven’t had before,” Kass said.

Kids under 16 likely won’t be eligible to receive a shot until at least the fall or winter, or perhaps even early 2022. 

Domestic travel is relatively safe

airport coronavirus masks
Passengers wear masks as they walk through Los Angeles International airport.

The CDC may offer new travel guidelines for vaccinated Americans this week, but at the White House briefing on Monday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said “the goal is not to sort of open up travel” just yet.

For now, the CDC recommends that all Americans avoid domestic travel, if possible. For those who have been vaccinated, the agency suggests waiting to travel until at least two weeks after your second dose.

In general, however, experts say it should be fine for vaccinated people to travel within the US.

“If someone who is fully vaccinated decides to take a trip for non-essential reasons, they’re probably very well protected themselves and probably relatively protected against spreading the illness, too,” Dr. Leana Wen, the former health commissioner of Baltimore, told Insider.

Vaccinated people could potentially return to offices 

movie theater social distancing
Moviegoers social distance at the AMC Highlands Ranch 24 in Highlands Ranch, Colorado on August 20, 2020.

Experts say most indoor activities wouldn’t be particularly risky if limited to vaccinated people only.

“For a fully vaccinated person who is in a cohort or socializes with other fully vaccinated people, I see it as being completely reasonable to go back to the theater and would even encourage people to see movies,” Dr. Daniel Griffin, a clinical medicine instructor at Columbia University, told Insider. 

But the risk of transmission and infection would increase substantially if unvaccinated people join the activity.

“Could you return to the office, if it’s only people who have been vaccinated who are in the office? I think that is fine,” Gounder said. “Where it becomes more complicated is if you have a mix.” 

Read the original article on Business Insider

New CDC guidelines will reportedly tell vaccinated Americans it’s safe to gather in small groups

Rochelle Walensky
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, CDC Director.

  • The CDC plans to release new guidelines this week for Americans who have been fully vaccinated.
  • The recommendations suggest that vaccinated people can host small, at-home gatherings with other fully vaccinated individuals, two senior White House officials told Politico.
  • But even fully vaccinated people will still need to wear masks and social distance in public.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to release guidelines this week detailing how Americans can safely alter their behavior once they’re fully vaccinated.

The recommendations will advise that vaccinated people can host small, at-home gatherings with other fully vaccinated individuals, two senior White House officials involved in drafting the guidelines told Politico.

But even fully vaccinated people – those who have received two doses of either Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccine, or one shot of Johnson & Johnson’s – will still be asked to wear masks and social distance in public, the officials said. The full guidelines could be released as early as Thursday, Politico reported

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, hinted at the new rules during a White House press briefing on Monday.

“I use the example of a daughter coming in from out of town who is doubly vaccinated, and a husband and wife doubly vaccinated, and maybe a next-door neighbor who you know are doubly vaccinated,” Fauci said. “Small gatherings in the home of people, I think you can clearly feel that the risk – the relative risk – is so low that you would not have to wear a mask, that you could have a good social gathering within the home.”

fauci mask
Dr. Anthony Fauci, during a White House Coronavirus Task Force meeting on November 19.

But CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky cautioned at the same briefing that even vaccinated Americans would have to remain vigilant.

“While we may have guidance at the individual level, as Dr. Fauci has suggested, I think we all need to keep our eye on the fact that we’re not out of the woods here yet,” Walensky said.

Average daily coronavirus cases have fallen roughly 65% since the start of January, but cases appear to have plateaued at around 70,000 per day over the last week.

If Americans “suddenly decided that because cases are going down, they felt more comfortable eating inside at a restaurant or socializing outside their pods, we could potentially erase the reductions that have been made over the past few weeks,” Dr. Kate Langwig, an infectious disease ecologist at Virginia Tech, told Insider in February.

For now, Walensky said, “the goal is not to sort of open up travel” just because vaccinations are scaling up. Instead, she said, the Biden administration has set its sights on making sure that “we are in a place to be out of this pandemic” within President Joe Biden’s first 100 days in office – roughly by the end of April.

“At 70,000 cases per day, we’re not in that place right now,” Walensky said.

For that reason, experts still advise that fully vaccinated people limit their interactions with non-vaccinated people as much as possible.

“The setting in a home of a small group of people having dinner together, all of whom are vaccinated, is very different when you step out the door and go into a society that has 70,000 new infections per day,” Fauci said.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The governor of Iowa lifted mask-wearing restrictions despite a new coronavirus variant in the state

kim reynolds iowa
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks at a news conference on the state’s guidance for returning to school in response to the coronavirus outbreak on July 30, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa.

  • Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds rolled back several health restrictions in response to the pandemic.
  • Reynolds said on Friday that Iowans no longer need to wear masks in public, for example.
  • This update comes as Iowan health officials say they’ve detected new coronavirus variants.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Friday lifted several health restrictions intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

Reynolds rolled back health practices like mask-wearing and capacity limitations indoors, despite officials noting in early February that the state has seen three coronavirus mutations

Reynolds said Iowans no longer have to wear face coverings in public, according to the Omaha World-Herald. She also said businesses no longer have to cap the number of people entering their establishing and can drop social distance guidelines. 

Meanwhile, Iowa county officials continue to urge caution. 

“Viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time. Sometimes new variants emerge and disappear. Other times, new variants emerge and persist. Multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been documented in the United States and globally during this pandemic,” Dr. Caitlin Pedati, an Iowa medical director and epidemiologist, said in a news release from the Iowa Department of Public Health.

“Public health will continue to work with our partners at [the State Hygienic Lab] to monitor these trends and it is very important that we all keep practicing good public health protective measures,” Pedati said. 

The state’s health department’s website encourages people to wash their hands often, continue to social distance, and wear a mask around others.

Reynolds’ office did not immediately return Insider’s request for comment.

Iowa has had at least 323,000 confirmed cases, according to the latest data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Of that, more than 5,000 people have died from the coronavirus. 

In the last week, Iowa almost topped its record-high number of deaths, according to Johns Hopkins data. Between December 6 and December 12 of last year, the state recorded 492 deaths from the coronavirus. Last week, the state hit 490 new deaths.

Reynolds’ updates to the state’s coronavirus health restrictions are in effect starting Sunday, the Omaha World-Herald reported. 

These new coronavirus variants can spread more easily and faster, according to the Iowa health department. Scientists are still trying to figure out whether the new variants lead to higher mortality rates.

Read the original article on Business Insider