The change comes more than a month after the Biden government announced its guidelines for reopening the school on Feb.12. The CDC Council then recommended that schools “establish guidelines and take structural action to encourage physical distance of at least two meters” and “cohorts or podding”. could help minimize exposure.
The agency was soon scrutinized by public health officials and scientists across the country who claimed it was safe for schools to be 3 feet physically apart to keep children safe. The dialogue was part of a larger conversation about how the agency’s guidelines contained too many restrictions and would limit schools’ ability to reopen.
In a testimony earlier this week to the House’s subcommittee on energy and trade oversight, CDC director Rochelle Walensky said the agency had reviewed several other unpublished studies that supported reducing recommended physical distance.
“As soon as our guide came out, it became very clear that 6 feet was one of the things that kept schools closed, and that is where science continues to develop,” Walensky said.
The change in physical distancing measures raises questions about the health department’s current deliberations on how Covid-19 is spreading and how social distancing plays a role in reducing transmission. The CDC currently recommends that all Americans keep a distance of 6 feet away from people who are not in your household.
The CDC’s updated guidance should reassure GOP lawmakers and other critics of the health department’s school reopening framework, but the announcement sparked muted response from at least one leading teachers’ union.
“While we hope the CDC is right and these new studies convince the community that the most enduring standard of safety in this pandemic – the 6-foot rule – can be thrown off if we all wear masks, we reserve the right to judge, until we check it out. ” said the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten. “To date, the literature on reducing distancing has been inconclusive at best and misleading at worst. Studies to date have often approached distancing in a vacuum without measuring the effects of changes to other mitigation strategies, including masking. “
Friday’s announcement follows weeks of internal discussions within the CDC and among senior health officials in the Biden administration about whether there is enough evidence to support the change.
The CDC’s updated guidelines cite three studies from the Agency’s weekly report on morbidity and mortality that “build on evidence that a physical distance of at least 3 feet is between students in classrooms where mask use is universal and others Preventive measures are taken, can be safely applied “. according to a statement published by the agency.
All three studies showed that kindergartens up to grade 12 could be safely reopened with appropriate mitigation strategies, but only one study specifically focused on distancing between students. This research, conducted in Salt Lake County, Utah, in 20 elementary schools over a six-week period, found that if the wearing of masks was universal – even 6 feet, elementary schools could be safely reopened with minimal transmission in school Distance between the students were not possible to be maintained.
Two other studies recently published by the agency appear to be reinforcing the 6-foot requirement among high school students. One of those studies looked at a high school in New Jersey with nearly 1,200 students. Tests found 19 cases of Covid-19 in teachers and staff and eight cases in high school students between August and November 2020. However, the study states that using “comprehensive prevention strategies,” including staying 6 feet away, can prevent outbreaks, yourself when the virus occurs spreading to the wider community.
Another study conducted among high school soccer players in Florida showed that a Covid-19 outbreak among team members resulted in a significant loss of personal study days for students infected with the virus and their contacts. “The spread in the team was likely during training and was caused by the infrequent use of masks. insufficient physical distancing and ventilation, ”the study says. “These results underscore why it is important for school sports teams to implement recommended CDC prevention strategies, including keeping 6 feet apart, consistently wearing masks during training, and testing players and staff.”
Some high-ranking CDC officials also relied on it a study conducted in Massachusetts, according to two officials with direct knowledge of the matter. The research team found no significant differences in the number of Covid-19 cases between students or school staff who implemented a policy of physical distancing of three feet along with other health measures such as wearing a universal mask.
“We are concerned that the CDC has changed one of the ground rules for ensuring school safety without showing any assurance that the change is scientifically justified and can be implemented in a way that does not affect the larger long-term needs of us Students, “said Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association.
Michael Stratford and Juan Perez contributed to this report.