In an important policy review that will enable many schools to receive children back into their own education, federal health officials on Friday relaxed the six-foot rule for elementary school students, saying they should only stay three meters apart in classrooms all wear a mask.
The three-foot rule also now applies to students in middle and high schools, provided the community transfer is not high, officials said. However, if the spread is high, these students should be at least six feet apart unless taught in groups, or small groups kept separate from others.
The six-foot rule still applies in the wider community, officials stressed, and for teachers and other adults working in schools, who must maintain the distance from other adults and students.
“The transmission dynamics are different in older students – that is, they are more exposed to SARS-CoV-2 and it spreads as younger children,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC, explained that the agency always updates its clues as new evidence becomes available. In a recent study in Boston, no significant differences were found in the number of infections in school districts in Massachusetts that adopted a three-foot rule, compared to those that required six feet distance. Additional CDC studies examining safety in schools were also announced Friday.
“CDC is committed to leading with science and updating our guidance as new evidence emerges,” said Dr. Walensky said. “These updated recommendations provide the evidence-based roadmap to help schools reopen safely and remain open to personal instruction.”
The new guideline emphasizes that good airflow and ventilation in school buildings is a critical component of maintaining a safe environment, and that it still emphasizes several layers of preventative behavior, including universal masking, hand washing, building cleaning and contact detection, combined with insulation and quarantine.
Adults in schools should still stay six feet away from other adults and students, officials said. The six-foot rule still applies in ordinary schools, such as foyers and auditoriums, when students eat or drink and can not wear a mask, and during activities that include more exhalation – such as singing, shouting, orchestral practice, sports or any exercise, activities that ‘ when possible to move outside or to large, well-ventilated areas’.
The American Federation of Teachers was strongly opposed to changing the leadership. In a recent interview, Randi Weingarten, the union’s president and a close ally of President Biden, described herself as “very concerned” about the possibility that the agency could change the distance guidelines. Instead of reducing distance, she said, districts should find additional space to accommodate students at six feet distance.