By Jenny Marcinkowski
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) changed its social distancing guidelines for grades K through 12 on March 19. This comes after the CDC released studies showing that three feet distancing was equally as effective as six feet distancing. Masks continue to be mandatory and adults still have to abide by the 6 feet recommendation between each other and students.
The new guidelines from the CDC recommend that elementary-aged students remain at least three feet socially distanced, no matter the level of transmission. In middle and high school, where the transmission of the virus is low, moderate or substantial, three feet of social distancing is recommended. However, six feet is suggested where transmission is highl and it is not possible to group students. The College has considered the new data, but will not be implementing these guidelines according to Luke Sacks, Head Media Relations Officer for the College.
“The efficiency of transmission among younger children is so low and the likelihood of serious illness remains low for younger children, that these sorts of measures make a great deal of sense to me and will allow the younger grades to get back to a more normal school life,” said Dr. Diane Bates, sociology professor at the College, who is a parent to a child in the Ewing school district.
She added that she would prefer all the staff and teachers be vaccinated first before more students are allowed in school since adults are at higher risk to get the virus in comparison to children. She believes teachers should be among the first occupational groups to receive the vaccine after health and medical professions.
Bates's son is a fourth grade student at Antheil Elementary, and she noted that the staff at his school have done a great job considering all the challenges that come with this school year.
“They have done a great job with the kids that are in person; my son really struggles to concentrate with virtual learning, so he has greatly benefited from the fact that Ewing did offer an in-person option for students well before there was any change of a vaccine being distributed,” Bates said.
The CDC continues to recommend six feet social distancing in common areas, places where masks cannot be worn and activities where increased exhalation happens. In addition, they removed the recommendation for physical barriers.
One of the studies the CDC referenced was done as a collaboration between Beth Israel Medical Center, Boston University Medical Center, Harvard Medical Center, Brown University and several other universities and government departments. The study was published in the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal and was conducted at 251 Massachusetts school districts with a combined enrollment of 537,336 students and 99,390 staff for 16 weeks. They found that the rates of infection were similar regardless of whether the school implemented three feet distancing instead of six.
The CDC, however, has not updated their guidelines for higher education and still recommends six feet of separation. “The CDC is one of several official sources we have been monitoring throughout the pandemic,” Sacks said.
“Where campus operations are concerned, we pay close attention to the guidance of the state of New Jersey,” Sacks said. “Were the CDC to change the social distancing guidelines for higher education, we would first look to the state and how or if it incorporated the change before making a decision on whether to make changes on our campus.”