CDC says schools can now space students out at 3 feet, versus 6 feet

Updated: March 19, 2021 01:37 PM
Created: March 19, 2021 05:22 AM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC/AP) — The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday school will be allowed to space students out at three feet apart, rather than its previous guideline of six feet.

Under the new guidance:

  • Plastic shields or other barriers between desks are no longer recommended.
  • CDC advises at least 3 feet of space between desks in elementary schools, even in towns and cities where community spread is high, so long as students and teachers wear masks and take other precautions.
  • Spacing can also be 3 feet in middle and high schools, so long as there is not a high level of spread in the community. If there is, spacing should be at least 6 feet.
  • 6 feet should still be maintained in common areas, such as school lobbies, and when masks can't be worn, such as when eating.

Also, students should be kept 6 feet apart in situations where there are a lot of people talking, cheering or singing, all of which can expel droplets containing the coronavirus. That includes chorus practice, assemblies and sports events.

Teachers and other adults should continue to stay 6 feet from one another and from students, the CDC said.

Federal health officials have pointed to a Massachusetts-based study showing no significant difference in transmission rates in schools using three feet of space. We first told you the CDC was considering reducing the distance earlier this week.


NYSUT President Andy Pallotta released the following statement:

“Any educator will tell you the best way for students to learn is to be in person in the classroom. In a number of schools around New York, that has been done safely and successfully since September. For places that have older buildings, spacing limitations or other circumstances that make COVID-19 mitigation strategies challenging, decisions on how to bring students back to the classroom must be driven by science, not politics.  
“Abrupt changes can undermine public trust and clarity, and we would like to review in greater detail the science behind the CDC’s latest social distancing guidance. Yet it is clear social distancing is only one element of a nuanced and multifaced approach to COVID-19 mitigation in schools. Universal mask-wearing, cleaning, proper ventilation, contact tracing, COVID-19 testing and getting the vaccine to everyone who wants one are all still important safety measures for schools. If anything, these other factors — especially the need for robust COVID-19 testing in schools — become more important as social distancing guidance changes. 
“When it comes to changing local reopening plans, districts must continue to work with educators and parents to maintain confidence in the safety of their buildings. Those decisions must be based on the circumstances within each school and must carefully consider all aspects of a responsible COVID-19 mitigation strategy. As public health officials have rightly cautioned, in the face of new variants and a race to make vaccinations widely available, this is not the time to let down our guard.”  

Local district leaders have told us changing the guidance would allow them to bring students back to the classroom full-time. Last month, both Victor and Greece Central School Districts sent letters to Gov. Andrew Cuomo asking for the social distancing guidelines to be changed. Many schools said they don't have the room for six-foot distancing, and having full-in person learning.

During a briefing Thursday, Monroe County Public Health Commissioner Dr.Michael Mendoza says he's on board if state and federal officials want to make the change.

"If the state health department falls in line with this, the CDC has already indicated that less than six feet would be permissible if community transmission was less than 50 per 100,000 over a 7-day average," Mendoza said. "I think things are moving in the right direction, I would support that locally."

Dr. Anthony Fauci said during a White House briefing Thursday this change could also have an impact on general social distancing guidelines in the future.

News10NBC is working to find out if New York State will adopt the new guidelines. Governor Cuomo previously said schools "must" reopen.

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