The CDC updates physical distance guidelines in K-12 schools


Courtesy of ABC7 News

The CDC updates its guidelines to enforce three-feet distancing between students.

Just a few weeks ago, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its physical distance guidelines by recommending that school students maintain a distance of three feet, rather than the previously recommended distance of six feet. The CDC also released three new studies that support the three-feet distance rule for students, as long as they are wearing proper personal protective equipment. Similarly, an additional study published in the Clinical Infectious Disease journal revealed that there was no major difference in Covid-19 rates after implementing the three-feet rule in Massachusetts schools. So, should schools around the country start applying this new three-feet distance rule?

According to Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC Director, this rule only works if “schools are taking other steps too.” Dr. Walensky also said that “schools must practice physical distancing, encourage students and faculty to wash their hands, clean their facilities, work in collaboration with local health departments, and use diagnostic testing.” If schools properly implement the necessary safety measures, experts believe that more schools will be allowed to open and possibly increase their capacities.

Still, according to CNN, some teachers’ unions said “they wanted to see more information about the science behind the decision.” Others are expressing their concerns about whether or not schools could even properly implement the safety measures. Lindsey Marr, an expert in airborne viruses from Virginia Tech, said “that going from six feet to three feet is going to add a small amount of additional risk,” which seems to be another concern amongst teachers.
Regardless, Dr. Walensky said that the C.D.C is “following the science.” Moreover, Dr. Westyn Branch-Elliman, an infectious diseases specialist at the VA Boston Healthcare System, said that this new three-feet rule will “break down a couple major barriers” regarding the return of students to school. And, in response to teacher concerns, the President of the American Federation of Teachers (ATF), Randi Weingarten, said in an emailed statement that the ATF plans to review the CDC’s studies before actually implementing their guidance.

However, for some teachers, the science is not enough. According to the New York Times, “teachers’ unions across the country have argued forcefully for six-feet of distancing.” Some unions and teachers have even started to lobby the CDC and the Biden administration to maintain the previous six-feet rule. Additionally, Marr expressed her concerns for the new three-feet rule when she said that the CDC needs to be more clear about this new rule by stressing to schools the importance of “doing everything else correctly.”

Despite the teacher concerns, “most schools are already operating at least partially in person, and evidence suggests they are doing so relatively safely,” wrote the New York Times. The New York Times also wrote that the spread of the virus “can be mitigated with simple safety measures such as masking, distancing, hand-washing and open windows.” Furthermore, school administrators have expressed that they will take the teachers’ input into consideration before making any decisions.

This new three-feet rule may mean that more schools will be able to open up in the weeks to come. It also means that schools will be able to increase their capacities and admit more students. Even though there may be benefits, one thing is clear: the decision to implement this rule should not come with ease. School administrators need to take the safety of their faculty, students, and communities into consideration.