The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new relaxed guidelines for schools to navigate reopening in-person instruction amid the coronavirus pandemic.
As of March 19, the CDC recommends students maintain 3 feet of social distance in classrooms—a decrease from the CDC's original requirement of 6 feet—as long as mask requirements are still universally enforced in schools.
According to the guidelines, elementary school students are recommended to remain 3 feet apart.
For students in middle and high schools, 3 feet of social distancing in classrooms is the new guidance from the CDC. Six feet of distance should, however, be maintained in common areas like auditoriums or when masks cannot be worn such as when eating or participating in activities that increase exhalations like exercise, according to the CDC.
Additionally, the CDC no longer deems physical barriers such as plastic desk shields necessary to slow the spread of the coronavirus in classrooms.
The CDC still recommends adults—all teachers and staff—to maintain 6 feet of social distance between students and other staff members.
According to the CDC, schools can safely reopen for in-person instruction and remain open if these and other guidelines and prevention strategies are adhered to.
CDC-recommended prevention strategies include universal and correct use of facial coverings, social distancing, handwashing and respiratory etiquette, cleaning and maintaining school facilities, and contact tracing in response to positive tests.
With vaccinations rolling out in states across the country, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said schools should implement the necessary mitigation strategies needed to facilitate a safe return to in-person instruction.
“While we hope the CDC is right and these new studies convince the community that the most enduring safety standard of this pandemic—the 6-foot rule—can be jettisoned if we all wear masks, we will reserve judgement until we review them, especially as they apply in districts with high community spread and older buildings with ventilation challenges,” Weingarten said in a statement.
In addition to scaling back social distancing guidelines, the CDC also recommends schools to prioritize ventilation in facilities, consider community transmission levels for reopening decision-making and intervention when clusters of COVID-19 cases occur.
The center’s complete updated guidance can be found here.