The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxed its Covid-19 guidelines for schools Friday afternoon, saying students can now sit three feet apart in classrooms, rather than six feet apart.
The CDC says this reflects “the latest science on physical distance between students in classrooms. CDC now recommends that, with universal masking, students should maintain a distance of at least 3 feet in classroom settings.”
The new CDC guidelines say:
- In elementary schools, 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, 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.
Across the country, schools have torn apart their campuses to meet the previous guidelines of desks six feet apart, which has made it difficult to accommodate students. Districts have staggered school times and cut down the number of hours that students are in school. That, after many students had been out of school altogether for nearly a year.
“We don’t really have the evidence that six feet is required in order to maintain low spread,” an official from the CDC said, who added that younger children are less likely to get seriously ill from Covid-19 and don’t seem to spread the illness as much as adults do.
The new guidance also removes recommendations for plastic shields or other barriers between desks, because there is no evidence that this is effective, the CDC said.
The CDC recommends that in common areas of the school, students should keep a six-foot distance from each other. Also, students should be spaced six feet apart in situations where there are a lot of people talking, cheering or singing, such as chorus practice, assemblies and other events.
As for teachers and other adults, the recommendation is that they stay six feet apart from each other and from students.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said these new guidelines are an “evidence-based roadmap to help schools reopen safely, and remain open, for in-person instruction.”