CDC reviewing 6-foot distancing rule for schools after study suggests 3 feet is safe  

The Centers for Disease Control is revisiting its guidance that schools maintain 6 feet of distance between students in the classroom after a study published last week on the efficacy of social distancing in Massachusetts schools found little difference in infection rates when 6 feet or 3 feet of distance is enforced with mask wearing. The study was published in the journal Clinical Infectious Disease, and could impact back-to-school planning in Massachusetts where Commissioner Jeff Riley has instructed all elementary schools to reopen for full-time, in-person learning by April 5.  Go to CDC reviewing 6-foot distancing rule for schools after study suggests 3 feet is safe – Boston News, Weather, Sports | WHDH 7News

Below is a copy of the abstract from the journal Clinical Infection Disease.

Effectiveness of three versus six feet of physical distancing for controlling spread of COVID-19 among primary and secondary students and staff: A retrospective, state-wide cohort study



  • 1Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Department of Medicine, Section of Infectious Diseases, Boston, MA, United States.
  • 2Department of Emergency Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center, Boston, MA, United States.
  • 3COVID-19 School Response Dashboard.
  • 4VA Boston Center for Healthcare Organization and Implementation Research (CHOIR), Boston, MA, United States.
  • 5IDEAS Center, Veterans Affairs Salt Lake City Healthcare System, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA.
  • 6Division of Epidemiology, University of Utah School of Medicine, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA.
  • 7Brown University Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Providence, RI, United States.
  • 8VA Boston Healthcare System, Department of Medicine, Section of Infectious Diseases.
  • 9Harvard Medical School, Department of Medicine, Boston, MA, United States.


Background: National and international guidelines differ about the optimal physical distancing between students for prevention of SARS-CoV-2 transmission; studies directly comparing the impact of ≥3 versus ≥6 feet of physical distancing policies in school settings are lacking. Thus, our objective was to compare incident cases of SARS-CoV-2 in students and staff in Massachusetts public schools among districts with different physical distancing requirements. State guidance mandates masking for all school staff and for students in grades 2 and higher; the majority of districts required universal masking.

Methods: Community incidence rates of SARS-CoV-2, SARS-CoV-2 cases among students in grades K-12 and staff participating in-person learning, and district infection control plans were linked. Incidence rate ratios (IRR) for students and staff members in districts with ≥3 versus ≥6 feet of physical distancing were estimated using log-binomial regression; models adjusted for community incidence are also reported.

Results: Among 251 eligible school districts, 537,336 students and 99,390 staff attended in-person instruction during the 16-week study period, representing 6,400,175 student learning weeks and 1,342,574 staff learning weeks. Student case rates were similar in the 242 districts with ≥3 feet versus ≥6 feet of physical distancing between students (IRR, 0.891, 95% CI, 0.594-1.335); results were similar after adjusting for community incidence (adjusted IRR, 0.904, 95% CI, 0.616-1.325). Cases among school staff in districts with ≥3 feet versus ≥6 feet of physical distancing were also similar (IRR, 1.015, 95% CI, 0.754-1.365).

Conclusions: Lower physical distancing policies can be adopted in school settings with masking mandates without negatively impacting student or staff safety.

Keywords: COVID-19; adaptation; infection control; physical distancing; schools.

Clinical Infectious Disease . 2021 Mar 10;ciab230.  doi: 10.1093/cid/ciab230. Online ahead of print.