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Fauci backed a study that found 3-foot social distancing in schools was as good as the recommended 6 feet at stopping the spread of COVID-19

Mar 15, 2021, 20:59 IST
Business Insider
Dr. Anthony Fauci.Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci said 3-foot physical distancing in schools appeared to be safe.
  • Current CDC guidance recommends "at least 6 feet" of distancing.
  • A study showed 6-foot distancing did not reduce COVID-19 cases compared with 3-foot distancing.

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

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

Official Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance stipulates "at least 6-foot" physical distance between school pupils.

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

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

He said he was "very well aware that data are accumulating making it look more like 3 feet are OK under certain circumstances."

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Fauci did not provide a time frame 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 3 feet, they will act accordingly," Fauci said.

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.

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

President Joe Biden announced his school-reopening strategy Friday and said 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."

As 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.

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In Massachusetts, distancing rules vary among 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 on 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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