Update on Safe Distancing in Schools

  • The Centers for Disease Control released updated guidelines on Friday, March 19, 2021 stating that with masking and other mitigation factors, schools should maintain at least 3 feet of distancing between students in classrooms. 

    Background on the announcement

    • The guidelines are responding to new research that found there were no differences in spread of COVID-19 in schools that employed 3 feet rather than 6 feet of distancing
    • The guidelines differentiate between younger and older students, given the potential for spread is higher with older students, and outlines guidance for middle and high schools (more below)
    • The guidelines account for a different approach depending on the rate of community spread, increasing distance recommendations in communities with higher rates of infection 
    • As of Friday, March 19, 2021 Boston is rated as having moderate community transmission of COVID-19:
    • Therefore Boston is considered to have moderate community transmission by the CDC

    The guidelines suggest that adults should maintain 6 feet of distance between themselves and students, that 6 feet should be maintained in shared spaces such as lobbies and hallways, and that 6 feet be maintained when masks are not worn such as when eating.

    From the CDC:

    “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is updating K12 school guidance to reflect the latest science on physical distance between students in classrooms.  CDC now recommends that, with universal masking, students should maintain a distance of at least 3 feet in classroom settings. CDC has updated its operational strategy to say:

    • In elementary schools, CDC recommends all students remain at least 3 feet apart in classrooms where mask use is universal — regardless of whether community transmission is low, moderate, substantial, or high.
    • In middle and high schools, CDC also recommends students should be at least 3 feet apart in classrooms where mask use is universal and in communities where community transmission is low, moderate, or substantial.
    • Middle school students and high school students should be at least 6 feet apart in communities where transmission is high, if cohorting is not possible. Cohorting is when groups of students are kept together with the same peers and staff throughout the school day to reduce the risk for spread throughout the school.  This recommendation is because COVID-19 transmission dynamics are different in older students – that is, they are more likely to be exposed to SARS-CoV-2 and spread it than younger children.”