CDC says students can stay 3 feet apart in classrooms where masks are worn

It just got a little easier for US schools to get back to in-person learning.

The CDC now says elementary schools can safely separate students by at least 3 feet, rather than the previously recommended 6 feet, in classrooms where everyone is wearing a mask.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC Director, says middle and high schools can also follow the 3-foot rule in classrooms, as long the community transmission risk is not high.

"Because COVID-19 is more likely to spread among older students, the CDC recommends middle and high school student should be at least 6 feet apart in communities where COVID-19 risk is high unless cohorting is possible," Dr. Walensky says. "Cohorting is where students are kept together with the same group and staff without interaction with other groups or cohorts."

In common areas of the school outside of the classroom, the agency says, staff and students should continue to stay at least 6 feet apart and wear masks.

Activities in which it is difficult to consistently mask up, such as eating, singing, band practice or sports, should be moved outdoors, when possible, the agency says.

For adults and everyone outside of the school settings, the CDC says, staying at least 6 feet apart is still the way to go.

"The evidence shows that the risk of COVID-19 transmission among younger children is much lower among young children than it is among teenagers and young adults," Dr. Walensky says.  "In particular, our school studies have shown that when young children are masked, the distance of 3 feet is in fact safe and has a lower transmission risk. For adults, we don't have that evidence, and for older children.  So, we're continuing with the 6 feet guidance."

Vaccinating educators is a priority, Walensky says.  

About 9,000 pharmacies in the federal vaccine program are prioritizing appointments for teachers and staff who work in the K -12 schools through the end of March.

For more information on where to find a pharmacy in the program, visit

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