The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently changed the social distancing guidelines for K-12 schools to recommend that individuals remain three feet apart and maintain mask usage. This is a big step for schools due to the difficulties they have been facing regarding keeping everyone safe with in-person learning.
Throughout the pandemic, some schools had to adapt more than others, depending on resources, the size of the physical school and the number of students. Some schools stopped using lockers completely, others staggered passing periods so only certain grades were in the halls at the same time. Some schools adopted different schedules completely, having some students come in certain days of the week and remaining kids on the other days. Desks are typically grouped together, especially in younger grades, so teachers are having to figure out how to fit as many students as possible in their rooms while keeping everyone safe.
The Associated Press says that “Students can safely sit just three feet apart in the classroom as long as they wear masks but should be kept the usual six feet away from one another at sporting events, assemblies, lunch or chorus practice.” This change now allows students to sit closer together in their respective classrooms, but the CDC says that the six feet guidelines should still be followed outside of the classroom. Linsey Marr, an expert in airborne viruses at Virginia Tech elaborated on the decision to move down to a three-foot social distancing rule in classrooms explaining that “from studies we’ve seen, the difference between three feet and six feet is not substantial.” Now that more students can safely fit into classrooms, schools will not have to stagger schedules.
Despite the adjustment to safety guidelines in schools, the CDC has maintained their recommendations of six-foot social distancing in other community settings. Within schools, officials have emphasized that students must still follow other CDC guidelines like properly wearing masks and frequently washing their hands.
Along with reducing the social distancing guidelines, the CDC has removed the recommendation for plastic shields and barriers. They say that there was not much evidence that they were effective. As long as there is low spread in the community of the school, the desks are allowed to be three feet apart in elementary, middle and high schools. If there becomes a high level of spread in the community of the school, the desks in middle and high school must be switched to six feet apart. As of Friday, when the CDC released this information, teachers are now reorganizing their rooms to have desks three feet apart. More students in the classroom means one more step closer to things getting better and back to the way things were pre-COVID-19.
The CDC stresses that at events where there is a lot of cheering, singing and talking everyone should have their masks on as well as 6 feet of social distancing. Teachers are encouraged to remain six feet away from others, whereas their student’s desks are only three feet apart. Hopefully these guideline shifts go over well and positive data is recorded. If cases do not spike, and everyone stays healthy these loosened social distancing guidelines could be the beginning of loosening restrictions regarding COVID-19.