WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now recommending that, with universal masking, students at K-12 schools should maintain a distance of at least 3 feet in classroom settings, instead of the previous 6 feet recommended.
The new recommendation is part of the CDC’s K-12 school guidance that was updated Friday to reflect the latest science on physical distance between students in classrooms.
In its guidance, the CDC breaks down recommendations by school levels, with a subtle difference in community transmission.
In elementary schools, the CDC recommends all students remain at least 3 feet apart in classrooms where mask use is universal, regardless of whether community transmission is low, moderate, substantial, or high.
As for middle and high schools, the CDC also recommends students should be at least 3 feet apart in classrooms where mask use is universal and in communities where transmission is low, moderate, or substantial.
The CDC says middle school and high school students should be at least 6 feet apart in communities where transmission is high, if cohorting is not possible. Cohorting is when groups of students are kept together with the same peers and staff throughout the school day to reduce the risk for spread throughout the school.
“This recommendation is because COVID-19 transmission dynamics are different in older students – that is, they are more likely to be exposed to SARS-CoV-2 and spread it than younger children,” wrote the CDC.
The CDC it’s continuing to recommend at least 6 feet of distance in other situations, such as:
- Between adults in school buildings, as well as between adults and students
- In common areas, such as school lobbies and auditoriums
- When masks can’t be worn, such as when eating
- During activities when increased exhalation occurs, such as singing, shouting, band practice, sports, or exercise (These activities should be moved outdoors or to large, well-ventilated spaces whenever possible)
- In community settings outside of the classroom
The CDC says these updated recommendations complement its existing guidance, resources, and tools for K-12 schools.
“CDC is committed to leading with science and updating our guidance as new evidence emerges,” said CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky. “Safe in-person instruction gives our kids access to critical social and mental health services that prepare them for the future, in addition to the education they need to succeed. These updated recommendations provide the evidence-based roadmap to help schools reopen safely, and remain open, for in-person instruction.”
The CDC says it’s critical for K-12 schools to open and remain open for in-person instruction, given the crucial services they offer and the benefits of in-person learning. However, they should reopen safely. Once open, officials say schools should be the last settings to close because of COVID-19 and the first to reopen when they can do so safely.
“Working together, school leaders and community members can take actions to keep schools open for in-person learning by protecting students, teachers, and school staff where they live, work, learn, and play,” wrote the CDC.