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Fauci backs study that says 3-foot social distancing safe for schools

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  • Fauci said that 3-feet physical distancing in schools appeared to be safe.
  • Current CDC guidance recommends “at least 6 feet” of distancing.
  • A study showed 6-feet distancing did not reduce COVID-19 cases, compared to 3-feet distancing.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday that 3 feet of distancing between school kids, rather than the recommended 6 feet, may be good enough for schools to reopen safely, following a new study published Wednesday.

The study found that increasing physical distancing requirements from 3 feet to 6 feet in Massachusetts schools did not make a difference to the number of COVID-19 cases among staff or pupils. Almost all of the kids and all staff in the study wore masks. 

Official Centers for Control and Diseases (CDC) guidance stipulates “at least 6-foot” physical distance between school pupils. 

Fauci told CNN that the CDC was aware of the new data, and was also collecting its own data. He said that it would be analyzed “soon.” 

Asked whether the data suggested 3 feet was a safe distance, Fauci said: “It does indeed.”

He was “very well aware that data are accumulating making it look more like 3 feet are okay under certain circumstances,” he said.

Fauci did not provide a timeframe for when the guidance might change. “I don’t want to get ahead of official guidelines,” he said.

“What the CDC wants to do is accumulate data, and when data shows ability to be three feet, they will act accordingly,” Fauci said.

Read more: 11 things you need to know about the COVID-19 stimulus Joe Biden just signed into law

Physical distancing guidance varies across the world —  the World Health Organization recommends at least 1 meter (roughly 3 feet) and the UK recommends 2 meters (roughly 6 feet).

A change from 6 feet to 3 feet could make a difference to the number of kids that can be in the classroom safely at one time. 

President Joe Biden announced his school re-opening strategy Friday, and said that the CDC and other federal agencies were responsible for establishing “basic objective criteria to guide state, tribal, and local officials in deciding if and how reopening can be managed safely in their communities.”

Like with other coronavirus restrictions, US states can ultimately decide their own recommendations: Illinois dropped its physical distance guidance to “no less than 3  feet” Wednesday.

In Massachusetts, distancing rules vary between districts. Some schools have 3 feet between people, and others 6 feet. This allowed the Massachusetts researchers to conduct the study, published in Clinical Infectious Diseases Wednesday.

They followed more than 530,000 students and more than 99,000 staff members from 242 schools in Massachusetts over a 16-week period from September 24 to January 27. They compared the number of COVID-19 cases in schools with 6 feet between staff and pupils against those with 3 feet.

The authors controlled for community transmission in their analysis. There were varying levels of in-person teaching.

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