After a year of dealing with remote learning and social distancing, a slight improvement towards life before COVID-19 is on the horizon for kids. On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidance for schools that say students only need to be 3 feet apart in the classroom.
Previously the CDC recommended students and school staff “stay at least 6 feet (about 2 arm lengths) from other people who are not from your household in both indoor and outdoor spaces,” while also limiting face-to-face contact to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Now, CDC community intervention task force leader Greta Massetti told the Associated Press that “we don’t really have the evidence that 6 feet is required in order to maintain low spread.”
With that in mind, as well as research that’s found young children are less likely to spread the virus or become seriously ill from it, though some still can, Massetti told the Associated Press these factors “allows us that confidence that that 3 feet of physical distance is safe.”
The CDC’s new guidelines were informed by a recent study published in the Oxford Academic Journal that included half a million students studying in class last fall. The study compared rates of COVID-19 cases in schools where students were 6 feet apart and 3 feet apart. “We didn't see any substantial difference in cases among students or staff in districts with 3 feet versus 6 feet, suggesting that we can open the schools safely at 3 feet, provided that some of the mitigation measures that were present here in Massachusetts are in place,” study co-author and infectious disease specialist Westyn Branch-Elliman told NPR. “Our study adds to a growing body of worldwide data about the safety of 3 feet in school settings."
The CDC’s new guidance also allows for physical barriers between desks to be removed and 3 feet of distance be maintained between desks in elementary, middle, and high schools. As long as staff and students are wearing face masks and taking other safety precautions like practicing good hand-washing hygiene, the CDC believes the possibility of a community transmission is considered low. Teachers and adults, however, are still advised to stay 6 feet apart.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky explained in a statement that the updated recommendations are an “evidence-based roadmap to help schools reopen safely, and remain open, for in-person instruction.”
“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,” Walensky said.
One provision the CDC noted for students was that they should still keep a 6-foot distance between each other in situations where there are a lot of people talking, cheering, or singing, like at a sporting event, choir practice, or school assembly.
The relaxing of physical distancing for students to 3 feet apart is momentous for several reasons. Many schools have gone to hybrid or part time schedules in an effort to comply with the previous 6 feet apart physical distancing guidelines as classrooms might not be able to accommodate class sizes. With the new guidance, more students and more desks will be able to share space safely.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here.