Infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Sunday that he and officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are aware of the study that shows that three feet of social distancing may “indeed” be enough to safely reopen schools, adding that officials at the CDC may be issuing new guidance on schools “soon.”
“What the CDC wants to do, is they want to accumulate data and when the data shows that there is an ability to be three feet, they will act accordingly,” Fauci said on CNN. “They’re analyzing that and I can assure you within a reasonable period of time, quite reasonable, they will be giving guidelines according to the data that they have,” he added.
Fauci, who has been the Director at the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) since 1984, was responding to a new study conducted over 16 weeks on hundreds of Massachusetts school districts that examined whether the virus is more likely to be transmitted if students are seated close together.
The study, published Wednesday by the Oxford University Press, was done by a team of doctors and health experts who compared districts where staff and students maintain 3 feet and 6 feet of physical distancing. They concluded that lowering social-distancing guidelines in school from the long-held six-feet guidance can be done without negatively impacting student or staff health, as long as masks are used.
Fauci said the CDC is “very well aware that data are accumulating making it look more like three feet are okay under certain circumstances.” He added that he speaks to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky “every single day,” and that officials are aware of the data and will be issuing new guidelines to reopen schools “within a reasonable period of time.”
The study looked at 251 school districts, close to 540,000 students, and nearly 100,000 staff who attended in-person instruction during a 16-week period–and found no significant difference in the number of COVID-19 cases reported under three feet of social distancing, as opposed to six feet.
The CDC published guidelines for reopening schools at the end of February, advising that physical distancing of at least six feet should be maintained whenever possible. Though the United States has long stood by its guidelines calling for six feet of social distancing to curb the spread of the CCP virus, other health organizations have said shorter distancing is acceptable. As more people are vaccinated and new data on distancing accumulates, some school districts in America have already started to use the new three feet of social distancing.
On Friday, the Biden administration released a five-step plan to reopen schools, assigning the CDC and other federal agencies “with establishing basic, objective criteria to guide state, tribal, and local officials in deciding if and how reopening can be managed safely in their communities.