The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised their guidelines on social distancing in schools on Friday, stating that most students can now sit 3 feet apart instead of 6 feet while wearing masks.
The recommendation applies to all K-12 students regardless of whether community transmission is low, moderate, or significant, according to the CDC.
In communities with high transmission rates, the CDC recommends that middle and high school students stay at least three feet apart if schools cannot keep students and teachers in assigned groups. In elementary schools, where younger children have been shown to have a lower risk of transmitting the virus than teenagers, children wearing masks can stay 3 feet away safely, the agency said.
The CDC said it continues to recommend a separation of at least 6 feet between adults in schools, as well as between adults and students. It is also recommended that you maintain a social distance of 6 feet in public areas, while dining, during indoor activities such as tape exercises and sports, and in environments outside of the classroom.
“CDC strives to be at the forefront of science and to update our guidelines as new information becomes available,” said the agency’s director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, in a statement. “Through safe, face-to-face tuition, our children gain access to vital social and mental health services that prepare them for the future, in addition to the education they need to be successful.”
The updated guidelines from the federal health authorities come from a study published last week in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases that suggested public schools could be safely reopened as long as children are 3 feet apart and other mitigation measures, such as wearing of masks to be enforced.
Some schools had complained that following a 6-foot rule was not feasible. The World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics both have a social distance of 3 feet.
Walensky told lawmakers on Wednesday that the CDC was working on updated guidelines for schools. The Chief Medical Officer of the White House, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Thursday that curtailed social guidelines were “likely” to happen. He was also asked about the study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases on Sunday.
“What the CDC wants to do is they want to collect data, and if the data shows that there is an ability to be 3 feet, they will act on it,” Fauci told CNN. “I can assure you that, within a reasonable time, they will, quite reasonably, issue guidelines that are consistent with the data they have.”
President Joe Biden has made the safe reopening of the country’s schools for personal learning a focus of his first 100 days in office. Some parents have had to stay home to watch their children instead of going to work.
New data from the CDC, released Thursday, suggests that virtual learning “carries more risks than face-to-face teaching in terms of the mental and emotional health of children and parents, as well as some health-promoting behaviors.”
The CDC surveyed 1,290 parents or guardians of school-age children up to 12 years of age between October and November. Overall, almost half (46.6%) of all parents reported increased stress, 16.5% said they consumed more drugs or alcohol, and 17.7% said that they had trouble sleeping due to the pandemic, among other things. Researchers found that across the board, children with children in full-time or part-time virtual learning programs had higher levels of suffering than parents with children in school.
The government has announced that it will invest $ 10 billion from the recently passed stimulus package in Covid-19 tests for schools to accelerate the return of personal learning across the country. The money will be used in part to provide diagnostic tests for symptomatic teachers, staff, and students, as well as those who have no symptoms but may have been exposed to an infectious person.
The CDC came under scrutiny last month after Walensky stated teachers do not need to be vaccinated against Covid-19 before schools can safely reopen. The White House fell back on Walensky’s comments, and Biden later urged states to prioritize vaccination of teachers and school staff.
“Let me be clear, we can reopen schools if the right steps are taken before staff are vaccinated,” Biden said at the White House on March 2. “But time and again we have heard from educators and parents who are concerned about it.”
– CNBC’s Will Feuer contributed to this report.