The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just updated its guidance on keeping kids safe in schools. The agency now says students can sit three feet apart inside classrooms—down from the long recommended six feet.
Greta Massetti, who runs the agency's community interventions task force, says the update was informed by on-the-ground facts. "We don't really have the evidence that six feet is required in order to maintain low spread," she explained. Massetti also told the Associated Press that because children generally don't become severely ill with Covid-19, "that allows us that confidence that that three feet of physical distance is safe."
The new guidelines stress that masks still need to be worn for safety, and that teachers and any other adults inside school should remain six feet apart. The CDC is also recommending that six feet of distance still be kept in place for activities outside the classroom. That includes lunch breaks, assemblies and sporting events—activities where big groups of kids might be talking, singing or yelling, and therefore more likely to spread respiratory droplets.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the head of the CDC, said the goal of the revised guidelines is to provide an "evidence-based roadmap to help schools reopen safely, and remain open, for in-person instruction," something she said is critical for students' social development and mental health.
Schools are not bound by the CDC's guidelines, and many have already been open with students sitting less than six feet apart. Data from some of those schools played a part in Friday's decision—multiple studies found no major differences in transmission and infection rates in schools where students have been sitting three feet apart compared to schools that maintained six feet.
Those new studies and updated guidelines give schools that have not yet been able to fully reopen an easier pathway to getting more kids back in the classroom. After a year of remote learning for so many students, that could be a major game-changer—and ultimately a big win for kids.