The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revised its guidelines for schools Friday, declaring three feet of distance between students is sufficient for all elementary and many middle and high schools.
This announcement lays the groundwork for districts to reopen full-time for in-person classes.
The CDC published new research that found limited coronavirus transmission in schools that require masks but not always six feet of distance, which had been the standard used to reopen schools around the nation. That was true even in areas with high community spread of the virus.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said that the issue is urgent.
“Indeed, because six feet has been such a challenge there, science has leaned in and there are now emerging studies on the question between three feet and six feet,” Walensky told Sen. Susan Collins during a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
What’s in the CDC guidance
As always, masks are recommended. At times when it’s not possible to accommodate masks, like when eating, CDC says six feet of distance should be maintained.
The agency recommends keeping student and teachers in distinct groups, or cohorts, throughout the day and maintaining 6 feet of distance between those groups, when possible. In middle schools and high schools where community transmission is high, CDC advises students to stay 6 feet apart, if cohorting is not possible.
CDC also recommends 6 feet of distance in common areas, like lobbies and auditoriums, and during activities like singing, shouting, band or sport practices. They say it’s better to move those kinds of activities, where increased exhalation occurs, outdoors or to well-ventilated spaces.
In classrooms, CDC says layout changes, like removing nonessential furniture and facing desks in the same direction, can help maximize distance between students. On school buses, the agency recommends seating students one child per row, skipping rows and opening windows to increase ventilation.