Enlarge /. Rochelle Walensky, director of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adjusts her protective mask during a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing in Washington, DC. Susan Walsh / AP / Bloomberg via Getty Images
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With the universal masking, students are only 3 feet away from each other in many classrooms, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in updated guidelines released on Friday.
As per the new recommendations, universal masking guidelines are recommended for elementary schools to maintain a minimum of 3 feet between students in classrooms regardless of the current rate of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in the community.
Middle and high schools with universal masking are also recommended to keep a minimum of 3 feet between students in classrooms if transmission in the community is currently low, moderate, or significant. If community broadcast is high and cohort / podding of students is not possible, a minimum of 6 feet should be kept in middle and high school classrooms.
The guideline updates only apply to students in school class when universal masking is in place.
The agency continues to recommend 6 feet of separation between adults in schools, between adults and students in schools, and in all common areas of schools (not classrooms) such as lobbies and auditoriums. The agency also continues to recommend staying 6 feet away in almost any other community setting, especially if masks cannot be worn, such as when a masks are in place. B. when eating and when exhalation is increased, e.g. B. when screaming or singing.
The optimized instructions are under renewed pressure compared to the previous position of the agency that schools should keep a distance of two meters at all times and in all places. The guide has caught fire and has been scrutinized as the distance is extremely prohibitive for schools. Classrooms just aren't big enough to take up that much space. Many parents, school officials, politicians, and even public health experts have questioned whether 6 feet is required, especially since some health officials – including the World Health Organization – have stated that at least 3 feet is sufficient.
The debate was rekindled last week when a new study claimed that Massachusetts public schools with 3-foot distancing guidelines have the same SARS-CoV-2 transmission rates as schools with 6-foot distancing guidelines. The study was quickly picked up by proponents at a distance of 3 feet. But there were some significant limitations and noisy statistics. In fact, the confidence intervals in the analysis were so large that 6 feet away could have decreased fall rates by as much as 47 percent compared to 3 feet, or increased fall rates by up to 18 percent. According to the data, both possibilities were plausible.
Still, the study put pressure on the CDC to reconsider its guidelines. Earlier this week, CDC director Rochelle Walensky confirmed that the agency is searching the data and has additional studies in the works to address the gap issue.
In a Senate committee hearing Thursday, Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, kept pushing Walensky to reduce the distance from 6 feet to 3 feet and bluntly told her, "You have to do it now."
With the announcement of the distance reduction for classrooms, the CDC released three studies of SARS-CoV-2 transmission in schools, although none of them compares rates in schools with 3-foot distancing versus 6-foot distancing.
A two-week study of 22 K-12 schools in Springfield, Missouri and St. Louis County, Missouri concluded that despite high levels of SARS-CoV-2 transmission in the community, school transmission was low when masked and Distancing was there. In the short study, 37 students, teachers and employees tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. They had a total of 157 school-based contacts, 102 of whom were tested for the virus. Only two tested positive, indicating low transmission in school. In the 22 schools, 100 percent had universal masking, desks 100 percent spaced ≥ 3 feet apart, 27 percent desks ≥ 6 feet apart, and 98 percent placed physical barriers between teachers and students.
Another study looked at elementary schools in Utah. It found that SARS-CoV-2 transmission was low among primary school students and staff, despite the high transmission in the community and the inability to maintain 6 feet of separation in schools. The third study, conducted in Florida, also found that transmission in schools was low. The researchers estimated that about 40 percent of COVID-19 cases in school-age children have been linked to schools.
All three studies have notable limitations, including failing to screen for possible asymptomatic cases in students who were not identified as contacts and many contacts who refuse tests. Nevertheless, the data were sufficient to influence the health department.
"CDC strives to be at the forefront of science and to update our guidelines as new information becomes available," Walensky said in a press release. “Through safe, face-to-face teaching, our children gain access to vital social and mental health services that prepare them for the future, in addition to the education they need to be successful. These updated recommendations include the evidence-based roadmap that will help schools reopen safely and stay open to face-to-face teaching. "