CDC reviewing 6-foot distancing rule for schools after study suggests 3 feet is safe

The Centers for Disease Control is revisiting its guidance that schools maintain 6 feet of distance between students in the classroom after a study published last week on the efficacy of social distancing in Massachusetts schools found little difference in infection rates when 6 feet or 3 feet of distance is enforced with mask wearing.

The study was published in the journal Clinical Infectious Disease, and could impact back-to-school planning in Massachusetts where Commissioner Jeff Riley has instructed all elementary schools to reopen for full-time, in-person learning by April 5.

“We are looking as these data carefully,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during a White House briefing Monday morning. “The question actually prompted more studies to be done so we know more are forthcoming. We’re taking all of those data carefully and revisiting our guidances in that context.”

In Massachusetts, the Baker administration’s policy has been to recommend that schools maintain at least 3 feet of distance between students in the classroom, and more if feasible.

Walensky, who headed the division of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital before joining the Biden administration, said the CDC’s longstanding guidance of 6 feet was based on studies done with and without mask of other respiratory viruses like the flu, MERS and SARS.

“We’re looking at this carefully,” she said of the Massachusetts study.

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