Before the start of COVID-19 pandemic in late 2019, few people would have thought that the six-foot social distancing would assume such significance. That includes former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who on Sunday said nobody knows the origins of the recommendation. Gottlieb told CBS’s ‘Face The Nation’ that the recommendation was arbitrary. “Nobody knows where it came from,” Gottlieb said, adding that contrary to public perception, the six-foot recommendation was not borne out of “some old studies related to flu, where droplets don’t travel more than six feet.”

President Joe Biden‘s administration had even asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to change its guidelines from six feet to three feet in an effort to re-open schools in the United States last spring, he said.

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Gottlieb also said that the CDC’s initial social-distancing recommendation was 10 feet which was eventually changed to around six feet. “Now imagine if that detail had leaked out. 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.

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“But when it became three feet, the basis for the CDC’s decision to ultimately revise it from six to three feet was a study that they conducted the prior fall. So they changed it in the spring.”

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted countries worldwide to impose a slew of measures including lockdowns, vaccination and social distancing norms.

With over 42.1 million cases and more than 674,000 deaths, the US tops the list of the worst-affected countries due to COVID-19 pandemic. With only 54% of Americans having been fully vaccinated, the US also lags behind its peers like Canada and Britain, which have fully vaccinated 69% and 65% of their populations, respectively.

Grappling with a Delta variant-led fourth wave of COVID-19 , the Joe Biden administration announced on September 9 new vaccine mandates that will require some 80 million workers to provide proof of vaccination or undergo weekly testing for coronavirus.