The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its guidelines for schools Friday, March 19, stating 3 feet of distance between students instead of 6 feet is sufficient for all elementary and most middle and high schools.
The announcement came after the CDC published new research stating limited coronavirus transmission in schools that require masks but not always 6 feet of distance was found.
"This is an urgent issue. I understand the mental health challenges. I understand the educational challenge, the food insecurity. This is urgent," Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said during a Senate hearing last week on the need to reopen schools.
The guidelines represent a reversal from CDC guidance issued in February that stated schools should maintain 6 feet of distance between people. To achieve that, the CDC stated schools in most of the country should hold off on fully reopening. That put the CDC at odds with President Joe Biden, who called on schools to fully reopen.
Teachers unions across the nation are opposing the change.
New guidance will be challenging, said Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association.
"At first glance, the change to 3 feet distance for students in classrooms will be particularly challenging for large urban school districts and those that have not yet had access to the resources necessary to fully implement the very COVID-19 mitigation measures that the CDC says are essential to safe in-person instruction, no matter how far apart students in classrooms are," she told CNN.
The nation is close to being able to ensure schools can be safe, Pringle said. "But as public health officials have rightly cautioned, in the face of new variants and a race to make vaccinations widely available, this is not the time to let down our guard,” she told CNN.
The CDC reported experts were persuaded to lower distancing because of the low levels of in-school transmission in three states, including Missouri, that showed if students wore masks and followed other measures to reduce transmission, the 6 feet of distance did not matter as much.
Nearly 24% of the nation's population, about 79 million people, have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, according to the CDC. More than 67% of Americans 65 and older have received at least one dose. At least 121 million doses of the vaccine have been administered in the U.S., according to CDC data.
According to Missouri’s vaccination dashboard, more than 2 million doses have been administered in the Show-Me State, with roughly 1.3 million receiving the first dose and more than 733,000 being fully vaccinated. According to the state dashboard, more than 32,000 doses of the vaccine have been administered in Clay County with 21,818 having received one dose and 10,796 fully vaccinated as of Sunday, March 21.
More guidance for people who are fully vaccinated can be found on the CDC's website.