Kids in School: 3 Feet Apart or 6 Feet?

Kids in School: 3 Feet Apart or 6 Feet?

March 29, 20212 min read

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently published updated guidelines for elementary schools, "now [recommending] that, with universal masking, students should maintain a distance of at least 3 feet in classroom settings" as opposed to the previous recommendation of 6 feet.

While many have had strong reactions for and against this updated guidance, immunologist Joseph Comber, PhD, an associate teaching professor of biology at Villanova University, wants to add nuance to the conversation.

On the one hand, Dr. Comber notes, when the CDC updates health and safety guidelines, the public can trust that as more information and data become available, the science behind the updates becomes more accurate. He stresses that studies "showed no difference in transmission between kids kept 3 feet apart or 6 feet apart in schools."

Plus, Comber says, "we already know that kids younger than 10 and 11 are less likely to spread the virus than older kids and adults."

However, Dr. Comber cautions that the subjects of the study followed "strict mask guidance and adherence to masking. We don't know what happens if schools enforce 3 feet of distance but are not strict with masking."

He also points out that where the study was done can have an impact on the results. Comber emphasizes that "community spread is most important to the specific community and, as we've seen so far, different states and regions can spike with infections at different times." He wonders "if this is especially true in areas that have higher virus circulation than others."

Dr. Comber notes that these guidelines are for elementary schools only, with one rather large caveat: "children are increasingly being infected."

Another concern with these shifting regulations is whether they will impact public trust. Villanova professor Jie Xu, PhD, is an expert on science and health communications. Her concern about this change is minimal "because science is evolving." She emphasizes that "we need to be able to revise conclusions when new evidence comes in," and she sees the country's "highly politicized environment" as something to be taken more seriously, when it comes to public health.

Dr. Xu cites "rising distrust in authorities and institutions (which has been going on for quite some time)" and notes that, when it comes to the nation’s children, in-person versus virtual schooling is a "highly charged issue."

In the end, according to Dr. Comber, "it remains to be seen what happens when kids are packed 3 feet into classrooms on a broad scale."

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