Safe Distancing In Schools May Be Closer Than You Thought

One year into the COVID-19 pandemic and it's almost hard to remember a time when we didn't have to worry about being within 6 feet of other people. Since the declaration of the pandemic by the World Health Organization in March of 2020, mask wearing, social distancing, and frequent hand washing have all been recommended on a daily basis.

For much of the past year, schools for all ages have been primarily remote or split between remote and in-person learning. There have been numerous challenges when trying to make a safe environment for students and faculty alike, including how much distance is necessary between students' desks. With a major push led by the Biden Administration to get all kids back in school quickly, schools across the nation are trying to follow protocols and update their practices to create the safest and most effective learning environment for students.

According to guidelines issued by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, desks were currently recommended to be at least 6 feet apart when feasible. In instances when this distancing is unrealistic, they recommend the use of physical barriers like sneeze guards or plastic partitions. However, a new study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases suggests that shorter distances between masked students do not negatively impact student or staff safety. This can have huge implications for a hurdle many schools trying to overcome.

New CDC guidelines likely to decrease physical distancing space

The study looked within Massachusetts public schools that had varying degrees of physical distancing requirements. During a 16-week period, they found that the rate of COVID-19 cases in students and faculty was similar in both districts that had implemented greater than or equal to 3 feet as well as those that had greater than or equal to 6 feet distance measures. Essentially they found that 3 feet of social distancing within schools that also had mask mandates did not lead to an increase in COVID cases and transmission. This finding can help schools suffering from spacial restrictions bring more kids back to the classroom.

Although the CDC has yet to respond to the findings of the study, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country's lead infectious disease specialist, thinks updated guidelines will be offered soon. In an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper, Dr. Fauci said, "The CDC is very well aware that data is accumulating making it look more like 3 feet are okay under certain circumstances. 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." Dr. Fauci emphasized that he is encouraged by these recent findings but did not want to jump ahead of published guidelines which he said would be coming very soon.

In addition to potentially updated physical distancing guidelines for schools, the Biden Administration has also ramped up vaccination efforts towards all teachers and school workers (via NPR). In the meantime, as always, continue to wear a mask, social distance when appropriate, and keep washing your hands often.