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NPR Coronavirus Updates

CDC Says Schools Can Now Space Students 3 Feet Apart, Rather Than 6


Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued new guidance for schools. And this is kind of a wow moment. The CDC says that students can stand or sit more closely together than the rules have dictated for the past year for just about everybody. NPR's Allison Aubrey joins us now. Allison, good morning.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: How close can students be?

AUBREY: Three feet now. You know, previously they had been recommending at least 6 feet, and they're saying that that should still be maintained in common areas such as auditoriums or wind masks are off, such as when you're eating. But otherwise, it can now be 3 feet, 3 feet of physical separation. And this is a big change, Steve, because the 6-foot guidance really meant that a lot of schools could only operate part time or on these hybrid schedules...


AUBREY: ...In order to reduce the number of kids in the class. This new 3-foot rule will allow many more schools to open in-person full time.

INSKEEP: What is the science that would've allowed this change now?

AUBREY: You know, a study published earlier this month in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases got a lot of attention, Steve. Researchers looked at schools in Massachusetts, where schools have been given a choice of distancing students either 6 feet or 3 feet apart. The study included more than, like, a half million students who attended school all last fall. And the researchers told me that they just didn't find any substantial difference in coronavirus cases among students or staff in the districts with the 3 feet versus the 6 feet. The authors conclude that this really added to the evidence that the safety of 3 feet is OK. Keep in mind the students in Massachusetts were masked - near universal masking. And today, in announcing this new guidance, the CDC pointed to new research from Missouri, from Florida and from Utah also adding to the evidence that 3 feet is OK.

INSKEEP: You know, I've got this quote in front of me, and it does say that's 3 feet is OK, quote, "in school settings," which feels important because in a school, everybody is presumably on the same page. They might be kids. They might be a little undisciplined, but everybody knows what the rules are. And most people can be made to follow the rules, which is different than ordinary life.

AUBREY: Yeah. I would say that's right. And, you know, just also adding a few more data points here, the World Health Organization had been giving this guidance for a while. They had been recommending that schools keep kids one meter, which is 3.3 feet apart. That's been happening in other countries. The American Academy of Pediatrics has been saying for a while that in many settings, the 6-foot standard just wasn't feasible. They've been advising flexibility.

And I think a lot of teachers and superintendents are really going to appreciate this. I mean, these hybrid schedules have cut back on the number of days kids can be in the classroom. And some superintendents say that the hybrid schedules have reduced student engagement. I've seen this with my own kids. They're in school some days, on Zoom other days. Sometimes, there's asynchronous learning and the schedules can be confusing. It's all too easy for kids to sort of turn off that camera on Zoom. And that doesn't lead them to be the best students they can be.

INSKEEP: Well, Allison, good luck to you and to your students at home - or at home part of the time.

AUBREY: Thank you. Thanks, Steve. You take care.

INSKEEP: NPR's Allison Aubrey. Again, the news from the CDC - students can be 3 feet apart instead of 6. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.