On Friday the masks of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were used publicly until its social distance guidelines in certain school settings were reduced from 6 feet to 3 feet.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the change, supported by science, could help the Biden administration move forward with the goal of opening more schools in private education.
“The CDC is committed to leading with science and updating our direction as new evidence emerges,” Walensky said in a statement.
In elementary schools, the CDC now recommends that all students stay at least 3 feet away from classrooms “regardless of whether community transmission is low, moderate, overall or high.”
In middle and high schools the performance of the organization is low, moderate or adequate only where the organizations change direction to reflect at least 3 feet. However, accompanying middle and high schools in areas with high transmission, or keeping students and staff together all day, can be reduced from 6 feet to 3 feet if possible.
The difference in direction between primary school and middle and high school is that “COVD-19 infection dynamics differ among older students – that is, they are more likely to be exposed to SARS-Cavi-2 and spread it than younger children,” the CDC said.
Personally safe guidance gives our children access to critical social and mental health care that prepares them for the future, “in addition to the education they need to succeed,” Walensky continued. “These updated recommendations provide evidence-based roadmaps that help schools safely reopen and stay open for personalized instruction.
Nevertheless, in the general area and between adults and students in several school settings a distance of 6 feet is recommended and when masks cannot be worn, such as when eating.
The agency said several studies published this week “based on evidence that at least 3 feet in length between students can be safely adopted in classroom settings where the use of masks is universal and other preventative measures are taken.”
But the recommendations were not universally encouraged. Some urban school educators have expressed concern that the studies the CDC used to change recommendations from 6 feet to 3 feet did not consider schools like theirs, which often have less space and poor ventilation. The American Federation of Teachers has requested the CDC to study the National School Districts so that they have a better idea of the impact of change.
The CDC currently recommends that school seats or desks be kept “at least a foot away” when possible, while the World Health Organization recommends an adequate distance of at least 1 meter or 3.26 feet high school.
“As soon as our guidelines were published, it became very clear that there was a lot of talk about closing schools and science was evolving in that context,” Walensky said Wednesday.
He noted in a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases that he did not find significant differences between students and staff at Massachusetts schools in terms of the minimum foot-by-foot distance required. Guidance in the state of Massachusetts requires masking for all school staff and students.
Asked about the update’s timeline, Walenski said: “We have only one published study to date. We are actively looking for additional studies and will try to do so soon,” Walenski said.
On Wednesday, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona discussed possible changes.