One restriction that complicates reopening schools could be eased soon. New research has found that schools might be able to safely welcome students back in person as long as they wear masks and follow other pandemic guidelines—even if they maintain only 3 feet of social distancing instead of the current 6. The study, published last week in Clinical Infectious Diseases, compared coronavirus cases among employees and students in 242 Massachusetts school districts. It found no statistically significant differences in infection rates between districts that kept people 6 feet apart and those than mandate 3 feet of space, the New York Times reports. Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, tweeted that he'd welcome a policy change, "because 6 ft doesn’t protect teachers. But it does keep kids out of school."
Dr. Anthony Fauci said over the weekend on CNN that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is looking at the study and conducting its own social distancing research. The official CDC guideline for schools is 6 feet in counties where coronavirus transmission rates are high, while the WHO suggests 1 meter, which is about 3.3 feet. Although many teachers unions support it, the 6-foot rule makes reopening difficult for some schools unless they add portable classrooms or move to a shorter school day, per Yahoo News. Other mitigation measures are at least as important, health officials say; the study found that infection rates were lower in schools that required masks than they were in the schools' cities at large. "Want to open schools safely?" Jha wrote. "Masks. Ventilation. Testing. Vaccinating teachers/staff. That’s the list." (Read more social distancing stories.)