The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is updating its physical distancing guidelines for children in schools from six feet to three feet.
The CDC has previously said schools should try to maintain at least six feet of distance between children, but in light of new data, the agency is now recommending students generally maintain at least three feet of distance.
On Friday, the agency is releasing three new studies it says support distancing of three feet between students, so long as everyone is wearing a mask and other prevention measures are in place.
Another study recently published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases found there was no difference in Covid-19 rates between Massachusetts schools that mandated three feet of physical distance compared to six feet, as long as everyone wore masks.
At times when it’s not possible to accommodate masks, such as when eating, the CDC said six feet of distance should be maintained.
The agency recommends keeping student and teachers in distinct groups, or cohorts, throughout the day and maintaining six feet of distance between those groups, when possible. In middle schools and high schools where community transmission is high, CDC advises students to stay six feet apart, if cohorting is not possible.
The CDC also recommends six feet of distance in common areas, like 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, the 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.
What about adults? When it comes to adults, including teachers and staff, the agency says it's better to stick to six feet of distance, both with other adults and with children.
“Several studies have found that transmission between staff is more common than transmission between students and staff, and among students, in schools,” the agency notes. CDC advises limiting interaction among teachers and staff during meetings and breaks.
The CDC says screening testing can provide additional protection for sports and in schools that use less than six feet of distancing between students in classrooms.