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CDC updates guidelines for school; now recommends 3 feet for social distancing 

As communities in the United States consider how to safely re-open K-12 school buildings for in-person learning and activities and keep them open, CDC offers updated considerations for prevention strategies that school administrators can use to help protect students, teachers, and staff and slow the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. 

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday relaxed its physical distancing guidelines for children in schools to recommend most students maintain at least 3 feet of distance. It had previously said schools should try to maintain at least 6 feet of distance between children.

These updated “Considerations for Schools” are intended to aid school administrators as they consider how to protect the health, safety, and wellbeing of students, teachers, staff, their families, and communities:

Promoting behaviors that reduce COVID-19’s spread

Maintaining healthy environments

Maintaining healthy operations

Preparing for when someone gets sick

Schools should determine, in collaboration with state and local health officials to the extent possible, whether and how to implement each of these considerations while adjusting to meet the unique needs and circumstances of the local community. Implementation should be guided by what is feasible, practical, acceptable, and tailored to the needs of each community. 

According to the CDC, it is also critically important to develop strategies that can be revised and adapted depending on the level of viral transmission in the school and throughout the community, as this may change rapidly. Strategies should be implemented in close coordination with state, local, or tribal public health authorities, recognizing the differences between school districts, including urban, suburban, and rural districts. 

These considerations are meant to supplement—not replace—any Federal, state, local, territorial, or tribal health and safety laws, rules, and regulations with which schools must comply (e.g., Individuals with Disabilities Education Actexternal icon).

In the new guidance, CDC recommends keeping students and teachers in distinct groups, or cohorts, throughout the day and maintaining 6 feet of distance between those groups, when possible. In middle schools and high schools where community transmission is high, CDC advises students to stay 6 feet apart, if cohorting is not possible.

CDC also recommends 6 feet of distance in common areas, such as lobbies and auditoriums, and during activities like singing, shouting, band or sport practices. They say it’s better to move those kinds of activities, where increased exhalation occurs, outdoors or to well-ventilated spaces.

In classrooms, CDC says layout changes, like removing nonessential furniture and facing desks in the same direction, can help maximize distance between students. On school buses, the agency recommends seating students one child per row, skipping rows, and opening windows to increase ventilation.

The changes from the CDC comes after multiple studies show little difference in transmission for students who maintained three feet of social distance compared to those who maintained six. 

Low levels of in-school coronavirus transmission in three states helped persuade the CDC to lower its distancing guidelines for many schools from 6 feet to 3 feet.

The reports from Utah, Missouri and Florida said if students wore masks and followed other measures to reduce transmission, the 6 feet of distance didn’t matter so much.

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