CDC Relaxes Physical Distancing in Schools from 6 Feet to 3 Feet

Atlanta, GA–The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is updating K12 school guidance to reflect 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. CDC has updated its operational strategy to 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.

The updated Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Prevention is part of CDC’s existing resources for K12 schools to open and remain open for in-person instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since release of the Operational Strategy on February 12, 2021, CDC has continually reviewed the evolving evidence on SARS-CoV-2 transmission in K12 schools, as well as the latest science on the effectiveness of different prevention strategies within schools.  The updated guidance complements CDC’s existing guidance, resources, and tools for K12 schools.

Three studies, published in today’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), also address spread of SARS-CoV-2 in schools. Taken together, these studies build on 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.

These updated recommendations are specific to students in classrooms with universal mask wearing.

CDC continues to recommend at least 6 feet of distance:

    • 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.

Given the crucial services schools offer and the benefits of in-person learning, it is critical for K12 schools to open and remain open for in-person instruction, as safely and as soon as possible. Schools should be the last settings to close because of COVID-19 and the first to reopen when they can do so safely. Working together, school leaders and community members can take actions to keep schools open for in-person learning by protecting students, teachers, and school staff where they live, work, learn, and play.

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