Simulation illustrates how COVID-19 social distancing creates pedestrian ‘traffic jams’

Along with the use of face masks, social distancing in public remains one of the most practiced front-line defenses against the spread of COVID-19. However, flows of pedestrians, including those practicing the 6-foot rule for distancing, are dynamic and characterized by nuances not always carefully considered in the context of everyday, public spaces.

In Physics of Fluids, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University examine the dynamics of social distancing practices through the lens of particle-based flow simulations. The study models social distance as the distance at which particles, representing pedestrians, repel fellow particles.

“Even at modest pedestrian density levels, a strong preference for 6 feet of social distance can cause large-scale pedestrian ‘traffic jams’ that take a long time to clear up,” said Gerald J. Wang, of Carnegie Mellon University.