With President Joe Biden pushing to have all students back in the classroom within his first 100 days in office, and no later than the fall, the Centers for Disease Control is evaluating its guidance on socially distancing inside schools.
Currently, students are advised to stay at least six feet apart while wearing facial coverings, however, a new study found that the number could possibly be dropped to three feet of social distance while still maintaining the safety of students and staff.
A study recently published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, looked at 242 school districts in Massachusetts last fall that imposed mandates of either six-feet or three-feet of distancing.
According to that study, with universal mask-wearing, there was no discernible difference in the COVID-19 infection rates in students and staff.
The six-foot mandate has encouraged many school districts across the country to stick with their all-virtual or hybrid learning models to help prevent the spread of the virus. By lowering that threshold, it would allow for more children in classrooms and would require less distance learning.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the head of the CDC noted that the six-feet rule comes from what research on other similar viruses dictated, and that less is known about three-feet of distancing. She said the CDC plans to continue researching and will come back with guidance once they are finished.
“As soon as we put out our guidance, among the biggest challenges that we were aware of was the fact that schools were having a hard time with the 6-foot guidance," Walensky said. "And that, of course, prompted more studies to say, 'Is 6-feet necessary in the context of mask-wearing?’”
Others, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, and Dr. Joe Allen, the director of the Healthy Buildings Program at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health have also expressed support for three-feet of distance, though others are less certain.
“When the data shows that there is an ability to be three feet, (the CDC) will act accordingly," Fauci told CNN's Jake Tapper. "The CDC is very well aware that data are accumulating making it look more like three feet are okay under certain circumstances."
The CDC will update its guidance if the data merits it, Fauci said.
Whether six feet or three feet, Walensky maintained that there must still be strict compliance in wearing masks or facial coverings for all, or else the social distancing guidance is a moot point.
“The question actually prompted more studies to be done,” Walensky said. “So we'll have more forthcoming. We're taking all of those data carefully and revisiting our guidances in that context.”
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