Kids in school: 3ft apart or 6ft?

Kids in school: 3ft apart or 6ft?

March 29, 20212 min read

The CDC recently updated its guidelines for elementary schools, stating that it “now recommends 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 of distance.

While many have had strong reactions for and against this updated guidance, immunologist Joseph Comber, PhD, associate teaching professor of Biology at Villanova University, wants to nuance 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 3ft apart or 6ft apart in schools.”

Plus, Comber says, “we already know that kids <10-11 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 3ft 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.”

The other concern the CDC faces with these shifting regulations is whether they will impact public trust. Villanova professor Jie Xu, PhD is an expert in 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 sees the U.S.’ “highly politicized environment” as something to be taken more seriously, when it comes to public health.

Dr. Xu cites “rising distrust on 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.”

According to Dr. Joseph Comber, “it remains to be seen what happens when kids are packed 3ft into classrooms on a broad scale.”

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