According to the C.D.C., children in elementary schools do not need to be separated by six feet.
Federal health officials eased the six-foot distancing requirement for elementary school students on Friday, saying they only need to be three feet apart in classrooms if someone is wearing a mask, in a significant policy move designed to allow more schools to accept children back to in-person teaching.
According to officials, the three-foot rule now extends to students in middle and high schools as well, as long as group transmission isn’t too high. Unless they are taught in cohorts, or small classes that are kept apart from others, these students must be at least six feet apart when the transmission is high.
Officials stressed that the six-foot rule still exists in the community at large, as well as for teachers and other adults working in classrooms, who must preserve the distance from other adults and students. Most schools also operate in person to some extent, and data shows that they do so reasonably safely. According to research, simple safety measures such as masking, distancing, hand-washing, and opening windows can help reduce in-school spread.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement that “transmission patterns are different in older students — that is, they are more likely to be exposed to SARS-CoV-2 and spread it than younger children.”
Teachers’ unions around the country have pushed for six feet of separation and pressured the C.D.C. and the Biden administration to keep the previous guidance in place.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the country’s second-largest educators’ union, issued a statement on Friday that she would “reserve judgment” on the proposed distancing recommendations awaiting further studies on how the virus acts in classrooms. Similar concerns were shared by Becky Pringle, president of the biggest teachers’ union, the National Educators Association.
Nonetheless, the CDC’s statement lags behind some local health agencies around the region. Three feet of a gap can be acceptable in colleges, according to Illinois and Massachusetts. Health authorities at the county level have also been involved in directing the actions of school boards and superintendents, who are often faced with contradictory public health recommendations.
The C.D.C. ‘s director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, clarified that the organization is continuously reviewing its guidelines as new information becomes available. New research in Boston showed no major variations in the number of infections in Massachusetts school districts that used a three-foot rule and those that used a six-foot rule. On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published two more reports on school safety.
Dr. Walensky said, “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is committed to leading with science and reviewing our advice when new research emerges.” “These revised guidelines provide an evidence-based plan for schools to reopen safely and remain available for in-person instruction.”
The new guidance stresses the importance of good airflow and ventilation in school buildings for maintaining a healthy atmosphere, as well as several layers of protective behaviors such as universal masking, hand washing, cleaning buildings, and touch tracing, as well as isolation and quarantine.
Adults in schools must maintain a six-foot separation from other adults and students, according to officials. The six-foot rule continues to apply in common areas in schools, such as lobbies and auditoriums, while students are eating or drinking and are unable to wear a mask, and during events that need further exhalation, such as singing, yelling, band practice, athletics, or other exercise, which “should be transferred outside or to wide well-ventilated spaces whenever possible.”