3 feet enough distance in most cases in schools


New research has led to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revising recommendations for distancing in schools from 6 to 3 feet in most situations.

One of the key elements of keeping children safe for in-person school has been maintaining proper distance from other children. With the latest research, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated the guidance for physical distancing in schools, saying that with universal masking, a distance of only 3 feet is required.1

The guidance offered further delineation, including:

  • In elementary schools with universal mask use, the 3 feet distancing was recommended and was not dependent on the community transmission rate.
  • Middle and high schools should use the 3 feet distancing rule with universal mask use, except when community transmission was high.
  • If community transmission is high, middle and high school students should be at least 6 feet apart if they are not able to cohort.

The agency stressed that the updated guidance was specific to classrooms where universal masking occurred. The 6 feet recommendation should still be used in common areas, when eating, and when engaging in activities that increase exhalation.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released the following statement from president Lee Savio Beers, MD, FAAP, “This update mirrors the guidance that the American Academy of Pediatrics has offered. As a nation, we should be prioritizing helping schools reopen safely so that children and adolescents can benefit from everything that schools provide. I hope this new, detailed guidance from the CDC helps more school districts adopt strategies that enable all students to safely return to in-person school as soon as possible.”2


1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC updates operational strategy for K-12 schools to reflect new evidence on physical distance in classrooms. Published March 19, 2021. Accessed March 19. 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2021/p0319-new-evidence-classroom-physical-distance.html

2. American Academy of Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics agrees with CDC on updated school guidance. Published March 19, 2021. Accessed March 19, 2021 https://services.aap.org/en/news-room/news-releases/aap/2021/american-academy-of-pediatrics-agrees-with-cdc-on-updated-school-guidance/

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Tina Tan, MD, FAAP, FIDSA, FPIDS, editor in chief, Contemporary Pediatrics, professor of pediatrics, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, pediatric infectious diseases attending, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago
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