CDC: 3 feet of social distancing now recommended in K-12 schools

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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its K-12 school COVID-19 guidance this week in regards to the recommended physical distance between students in classrooms.

The CDC now recommends that, in addition to mask-wearing, students should maintain a distance of at least 3 feet in classroom settings instead of 6 feet.

According to the new guidance listed on the agency’s website:

  • In elementary schools, the CDC recommends all students remain at least 3 feet apart in classrooms where mask use is universal — regardless of whether community transmission is low, moderate, substantial or high. 
  • In middle and high schools, the CDC also recommends students should be at least 3 feet apart in classrooms where mask use is universal and in communities where transmission is low, moderate or substantial.
  • Middle school students and high school students should be at least 6 feet apart in communities where transmission is high, if cohorting is not possible. Cohorting is when groups of students are kept together with the same peers and staff throughout the school day to reduce the risk for spread throughout the school.  This recommendation is because COVID-19 transmission dynamics are different in older students – that is, they are more likely to be exposed to SARS-CoV-2 and spread it than younger children.

The agency had been considering updating its guidance since earlier this week to potentially allow more students to fit inside classrooms. The Biden administration has said it wants to open schools as soon as possible.

The change in social distancing guidelines was officially announced after the CDC published three studies in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report released Friday. According to the agency, the studies provide “evidence that physical distancing of at least 3 feet between students can safely be adopted in classroom settings where mask use is universal and other prevention measures are taken.”

“CDC is committed to leading with science and updating our guidance as new evidence emerges,” CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky said in a statement. “Safe in-person instruction gives our kids access to critical social and mental health services that prepare them for the future, in addition to the education they need to succeed. These updated recommendations provide the evidence-based roadmap to help schools reopen safely, and remain open, for in-person instruction.”

According to the CDC, the updated recommendations are specific to students in classrooms with universal mask wearing. The CDC continues to recommend at least 6 feet of distance in the following situations:

  • Between adults in the school building and between adults and students.
  • In common areas, such as school lobbies and auditoriums.
  • When masks can’t be worn, such as when eating.
  • During activities when increased exhalation occurs, such as singing, shouting, band practice, sports, or exercise. These activities should be moved outdoors or to large, well-ventilated spaces whenever possible.
  • In community settings outside of the classroom.

You can find more information about the CDC’s latest guidance on the agency’s website.

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