CDC Relaxes School COVID-19 Guidelines | Nutrition Fit



Editor’s note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Center.

Many students can now safely sit just 3 feet apart in classrooms if they are wearing masks, according to more relaxed school guidelines released by the CDC on Friday. The new policy allows schools to better accommodate students and gets one step closer to resuming in-person learning.

“As a mother of three myself, I know all too well the difficulties that arise for our children and parents and caregivers when children are not able to attend in-person school,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said at a White House news briefing Friday. “Challenges are especially difficult for children in low-resource communities, as well as those from racial and ethnic minority communities and those with disabilities.”

The new guidance reduces the recommended distance between students from 6 feet, with the exception of common-area events like assemblies, sporting events, and lunch.

The new recommendations say students should:

  • Remain at least 3 feet apart in elementary classrooms where they are masked, regardless of whether community transmission is low, moderate, substantial, or high.

  • Remain at least 3 feet apart in middle and high schools in communities where the transmission level is not high. In high-transmission areas, spacing should be at least 6 feet.

  • Remain 6 feet apart in middle and high schools where cohorting — dividing students into smaller groups — is not possible.

The announcement comes on the heels of increased pressure from state officials to update the school guidelines. US Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, pressed Walensky on Thursday during a Senate committee hearing and said students have faced psychological turmoil from prolonged distance learning.

Along with the new guidance, the agency released three new studies showing that 3 feet is enough distance in many cases — but only in communities where masking and other safety measures are in place. Recommendations are different for older children because of the differences in transmission risk based on age, Walensky said.

“Because COVID-19 is spread more likely among older students, the CDC recommends middle and high school students remain 6 feet apart in communities where risk is high, unless the students are cohorting,” Walensky said.

On the vaccine front, Anthony Fauci, MD, delivered some good news: The available shots seem to work against the coronavirus variant first seen in the United Kingdom, which is predicted to become the dominant strain in the United States.

This is particularly good news, given how the UK-based strain can spread more easily, he said. Data from Europe shows a 50% increase in spread with this variant. It now accounts for 20% – 30% of infections in the US, and “that number is growing.”


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