CDC Now Recommends 3-foot Social Distancing in Classrooms

March 19, 2021 Updated: March 19, 2021

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated its guidelines for K-12 schools, reducing the recommended physical distance between students in classroom from six feet to three feet.

The agency on Friday announced it “now recommends that, with universal masking, students should maintain a distance of at least 3 feet in classroom settings.” The guidelines previously stated that “physical distancing, at least 6 feet, should be maximized to the greatest extent possible.”

However, the updated guidelines still recommends at least six feet of distance between adults and between adults and students in classrooms, as well as in common areas, such as auditoriums.

The change is expected to encourage more schools to return to full-time, five-days-a-week in-person instructions, as the long-standing six-foot social distancing recommendation has been interpreted as requiring schools to offer a combination of remote and in-person classes with staggered schedules in order to reduce class sizes.

The CDC said the change is based on several pieces of research, including a study that looked at schools in Massachusetts, which has enforced the three-foot guideline for months. The study, published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, found no difference between the effectiveness of distancing at six feet and three feet in schools.

“That was the first study we had seen that looked at three feet versus six feet 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,” Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said Wednesday during a hearing before the House Energy Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

“I’m aware of several that will be released in the next several days. And we are actively looking at our guidance to update it, to address that science,” Walensky told the subcommittee members.

Three-foot distancing has already been implemented in some states before the CDC updated its guidelines, including Massachusetts, Illinois, Indiana, and Oregon.

Last week, Illinois’ health and education officials revised the physical distancing standard in a joint guidance that aimed to support a more rapid return to in-person instruction across the state.

“Maintaining six feet remains the safest distance, but schools can operate at no less than three feet in order to provide in-person learning,” said Illinois State Superintendent Carmen Ayala, reported Chicago Tribune. She noted that staff who have yet to receive the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus vaccine should still keep a distance of six feet as much as possible, because “adults remain more susceptible to infection than children.”