Three feet of social distancing — instead of the standard 6 feet — in elementary, middle and high school classrooms when masks are worn is now recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In new guidance updated Friday, the CDC said that elementary students can stay just 3 feet apart regardless of community transmission levels as long as mask use is universal.

Middle and high school students can also use three feet of distancing if masks are used and community transmission is low, moderate or substantial.

In communities where transmission is high and students are not in cohorts, middle and high school kids should maintain six feet of space.

“This recommendation is because COVID-19 transmission dynamics are different in older students — that is, they are more likely to be exposed to SARS-CoV-2 and spread it than younger children,” the guidance states.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement, “”Safe in-person instruction gives our kids access to critical social and mental health services that prepare them for the future, in addition to the education they need to succeed. These updated recommendations provide the evidence-based roadmap to help schools reopen safely, and remain open, for in-person instruction.”

Six feet of social distancing is still recommended between adults in school buildings and between adults and students, in common areas and when masks can’t be worn such as during lunch.

The CDC has drawn on three studies examining coronavirus spread in schools that “build on evidence that physical distancing of at least 3 feet between students can safely be adopted in classroom settings.”

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has also supported three feet of distance in classrooms.

In a recent meeting, Commissioner Jeff Riley presented study findings done in Massachusetts schools that showed coronavirus student case rates were similar in 242 districts with three feet versus six feet of physical distancing between students. Cases among staff were also similar.


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