CDC Looks At Whether 3 Feet — Instead Of 6 — Is Safe For Schools’ Social Distancing

As President Biden pushes to get students back in schools, there’s one crucial question: How much social distance is necessary in the classroom?

The answer (to that question) has huge consequences for how many students can safely fit into classrooms. Public schools in particular are finding it difficult to accommodate a full return if 6 feet of social distancing is required — a key factor behind many schools offering hybrid schedules that bring students back to the classroom just a few days a week.

The CDC’s current guidance for schools recommends seating or desks be “at least 6 feet apart when feasible.”

But a new study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases suggests that 3 feet may be as safe as 6 feet, so long as everyone is masked. The authors compared infection rates at Massachusetts schools that required at least 3 feet of distancing with those that required at least 6 feet, and found no significant difference in the coronavirus case rates among students or staff in the two cohorts.

The authors pointed out an important caveat to the findings: It’s possible that districts that allowed a minimum of 3 feet were able to attain larger distances than that in reality – and in that case, the study would be capturing official policy but not its real-world implementation.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC, addressed the Massachusetts study at the White House COVID-19 briefing on Monday, and noted that schools have struggled with the 6-foot guidance.


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