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CDC is considering shortening social distancing recommendations for schools to 3 feet, director says


A girl looks on after returning to school as coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions are lifted in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, March 8, 2021.

Hannah Beier | Reuters

WASHINGTON — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working on updated guidance for schools that could reduce its social distance recommendations from 6 feet to 3 feet, Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told lawmakers Wednesday.

“As soon as our guidance came out, it became very clear that 6 feet was among the things that was keeping schools closed and in that context science evolves,” Walensky testified before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations.

“There has been one study that was published late last week that demonstrated in Massachusetts where there is generally 100% mask-wearing, that 3 feet was actually safe,” she said, adding that the agency was reviewing several other unpublished studies on shorter social distancing guidelines as it revises its own recommendations.

When pressed on the timeline for revising the agency’s school guidance, Walensky, who said she’s been homeschooling her three children throughout the pandemic herself, said the CDC was still “actively looking at those additional studies.”

“We are looking to update our guidance,” Walensky said adding, “I am entirely with you as that we need to get our children back [to school].”

The new study, published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, compared infection rates of Covid-19 in Massachusetts public schools with different physical distancing requirements. The research suggests that 3 feet may be as safe as 6 feet if everyone is masked.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious diseases official and President Joe Biden’s chief medical advisor, was asked about the study on Sunday.

“What the CDC wants to do is they want to accumulate data and when the data shows that there is an ability to be 3 feet they will act accordingly,” Fauci told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “I can assure you within a reasonable amount of time, quite reasonable, they will be giving guidelines according to the data they have.”

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