Former FDA commissioner says six-feet social distancing rule is arbitrary, “nobody knows where it came from”
By Arsenio Toledo // Sep 23, 2021

A former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has admitted that "nobody knows" where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) social distancing rule of six feet came from. He further alleges that choosing six feet to be the standard was completely arbitrary. This rule was implemented during the beginning of the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.


Scott Gottlieb served as the commissioner of the FDA from May 2017 to April 2019. After his tenure ended, he went into the private sector.

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gottlieb, along with other so-called public health experts, published a guide on how to respond to the outbreak. Since then, he has been serving as an advisor for multiple state governments on how to manage the coronavirus.

During an appearance on CBS's program, "Face The Nation," Gottlieb told host Margaret Brennan that the recommendation that people distance themselves from others by at least six feet was completely arbitrary.

"The six feet was arbitrary in and of itself. Nobody knows where it came from," said Gottlieb.

"Most people assume that the six feet of distance, the recommendation for keeping six feet apart, comes ut of some old studies related to the flu, where droplets don't travel more than six feet," he added. (Related: New study claims that six-foot social distancing rule indoors is ineffective in preventing  coronavirus transmission.)

Social distancing recommendation based on politics, not science

According to Gottlieb, the initial recommendation regarding social distancing was supposed to be 10 feet. But this proposal was squashed when a political appointee in the White House said it would be unfeasible.

The White House appointee reportedly said that a social distancing rule of 10 feet would be "inoperable." It would shut American society down because nobody would be able to measure 10 feet. So, a compromise was found at six feet.

"Now imagine if that detail had leaked out," said Gottlieb. "Everyone would have said 'This is the White House politically interfering with the CDC's judgment. The CDC said 10 feet, it should be 10 feet.'"

"But 10 feet was no more right than six feet and ultimately became three feet."

Gottlieb said the White House justified the three-feet rule because of a study that was conducted in the fall of 2020.

"They had done a study in the fall where they showed that if you have two masked individuals, two people wearing masks, the risk of transmission is reduced 70 percent with masks if you're three feet apart," said Gottlieb. "So they said on the basis of that, we can now make a judgment that three feet is an appropriate distance."

Gottlieb pointed out that it is very suspicious of the CDC to withhold making a recommendation regarding the study as soon as it came out. He said it could have made a difference regarding the spring semester of 2021.

"This is how the whole thing feels arbitrary and not science-based," said Gottlieb. He pointed out that the CDC's unwillingness to make immediate decisions based on science is why a lot of people are skeptical of the federal government's COVID-19-related public health recommendations.

"So, we talk about a very careful, science-based process and these anecdotes get exposed, and that's where Americans start to lose confidence in how the decisions got made," he said.

The decision to not recommend three feet of social distancing early had major repercussions. "If the CDC had said, 'You have to keep kids three feet apart,' then a lot of schools would have been able to open," said Gottlieb.

Learn more about how the government is making coronavirus-related decisions based on politics rather than science by reading the latest articles at

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