They now recommend, based on new data, that students remain a distance of at least three feet apart instead of six feet.

PITTSBURGH (KDKA/CNN) — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is updating its social distancing guidelines for elementary, middle and high school students in the classroom.

They now recommend, based on new data, that students remain a distance of at least three feet apart instead of six feet. The CDC says that is with universal masking.

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In the classroom, the CDC says all students in elementary schools can remain at least three feet apart with universal masking policies. In middle and high schools, students should also stay at least three feet apart with universal masking, as well as in communities where COVID-19 transmission rates are “low, moderate or substantial.”

However, the CDC says middle and high school students should still remain at least six feet of distance in communities were transmission rates are high. That is contingent on where “cohorting” is not possible.

The CDC defines cohorting as groups of students being kept together with the same students and staff throughout the school day.


On Friday morning, the agency released three new studies it says support distancing of three feet between students, so long as everyone is wearing a mask and other prevention measures are in place. Another study recently published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases found there was no difference in COVID-19 rates between Massachusetts schools that mandated three feet of physical distance compared to six feet, as long as everyone wore masks.

CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Thursday that the issue is urgent.

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“Indeed, because six feet has been such a challenge there, science has leaned in and there are now emerging studies on the question between three feet and six feet,” Dr. Walensky told Sen. Susan Collins during a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

The CDC also recommends six feet of distance in common areas, like lobbies and auditoriums, and during activities like singing, shouting, band or sport practices. They say it’s better to move those kinds of activities, where increased exhalation occurs, outdoors or to well-ventilated spaces.

In classrooms, CDC says layout changes, like removing nonessential furniture and facing desks in the same direction, can help maximize distance between students. On school buses, the agency recommends seating students one child per row, skipping rows and opening windows to increase ventilation.

When it comes to adults, including teachers and staff, the agency says its better to stick to six feet of distance, both with other adults and with children.

“Several studies have found that transmission between staff is more common than transmission between students and staff, and among students, in schools,” the agency notes.

CDC advises limiting interaction among teachers and staff during meetings and breaks.

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