Health and Science

CDC considers shortening Covid social distancing recommendations for schools to 3 feet, director says

Key Points
  • The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday that the agency is considering changing its recommendation on Covid social distancing in schools to 3 feet.
  • "We are looking to update our guidance," Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, said before a House subcommittee.
  • A new study suggests that a social distance of 3 feet may be as safe as 6 feet, provided that everyone is masked.
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 Covid-19 guidance for schools that could reduce its social distancing 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 Committee on Energy and Commerce's oversight and investigations subcommittee, which was holding a hearing on increasing Covid-19 vaccinations.

"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. The agency is reviewing several other unpublished studies on shorter social distancing guidelines as it revises its own recommendations, she said.

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."

Former FDA chief Scott Gottlieb on vaccinating against Covid in the future
Former FDA chief Scott Gottlieb on vaccinating against Covid in the future