CDC updates school distancing guidelines to 3 feet amid mounting pressure

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On Friday, the CDC delivered news that many school districts have been eagerly awaiting - a recommendation that spacing between students in classrooms can be safely cut in half in many classroom settings.

Three feet "gives school districts greater flexibility to have more students in for a prolonged period of time", said Kevin Quinn, director of maintenance and facilities at Mundelein High School in suburban Chicago.

© Provided by CBS News Students and a teacher in a socially distanced classroom at Medora Elementary School on March 17, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky, as Jefferson County Public Schools reopened for in-person learning with new COVID-19 procedures in place. Studies of what happened in some of them helped sway the agency, said Greta Massetti, who leads the CDC's community interventions task force. "I see no reason why we wouldn't be back in in-person instruction before long".

"Sometimes I think it can be hard", she said, "because you don't have the exact research you need to answer the exact policy question you're trying to".

You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times. The new guidance removes the need for barriers or face shields, saying it's not been proven they are effective.

Both parents say they are excited the CDC is offering this new guidance, but say it's not enough to quickly return students to schools full-time.

The new federal guidelines ease the 6-foot rule for middle and high schools when transmission in the community is low; 6 feet of distance is recommended, though, when transmission is high and students can't be taught in small groups. In those cases, students should be 6 feet apart.

"The CDC has said for almost a year that six feet of distancing helps reduce the spread of the coronavirus in schools".

According to the CDC, students should still continue to be spaced six feet apart in situations where there are a lot of people talking, cheering, or singing, all of which can spread droplets containing the coronavirus.

School districts should expand screenings for students participating in sports or other extracurricular activities, and consider universal screening prior to athletic events.

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Students should continue to maintain six feet of distance when interacting with teachers and other school staff and when eating, the CDC said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends anywhere between three and six feet in schools while the World Health Organization recommends one meter, or 3.3 feet.

Now, the guidance says 3-feet of distancing can be deployed in most cases, although there are exceptions.

The Scott administration has been telegraphing for months that it wants kids back in person after the April school break, and Dave Younce, president of the Vermont Superintendents Association, said this does largely clear the way for most kids to return to full-time, in-person instruction. Some local officials have also argued it makes little sense to redesign everything so late in the school year, and it's possible some communities will opt to stick to a mix of remote and in-person learning.

The recommendations are more complex for middle and high schools and depend on which of four levels of community transmission are present in the surrounding area.

Walensky had previously acknowledged that the initial 6 feet of distance recommendation proved to be a challenge for some districts.

"CDC is committed to leading with science and updating our guidance as new evidence emerges", she said in a statement Friday.

A recent study in MA looked at students and staff members in schools that used the 3-foot standard and those that had the 6-foot one. That study also found that COVID-19 rates were higher among schools that didn't have mandatory masking in place, Walensky said.

She noted that the CDC's own publication, MMWR, had released three studies on Friday "that add to this evidence base".

One was a study in Utah that found low coronavirus transmission rates among students who did a good job wearing masks and whose desks were only 3 feet apart.

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