Photo by Tim Mossholder from Pexels
Many students and staff members were elated to learn that on Friday, Mar. 19, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) declared that students who are properly wearing masks can safely attend school and only have to maintain a distance of three feet from others, rather than the previous recommendation of six. This new guideline has given students, parents, and faculty members hope that this bizarre period in history is finally coming close to an end, and we can soon return to what our lives were like before the pandemic.
The CDC recommends that the three-feet social distancing may occur at the elementary school level when mask use is prevalent, regardless of whether the infection rate is low or high in the school’s community. At the middle and high-school level, the requirements are the same; students must properly wear a mask in order to be three feet apart for extended periods. When performing high-risk activities in school such as exercising, singing, and eating, maintaining the social distance of six feet is still essential.
Previously, the required six feet of social distance in schools was put into effect when schools first started reopening during the Covid-19 pandemic in hopes of minimizing the spread of the virus. Now, new lab studies show that three feet of distancing is enough to promote safe in-person instruction for students from kindergarten to grade 12. According to the Mar. 19 CDC article entitled, “CDC Updates Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools to Reflect New Evidence on Physical Distance in Classrooms,” three new studies reveal infection rates remained consistent whether subjects were distanced three or six feet apart. Since there was no drastic change in infection rate when distancing three feet rather than six, the CDC believes this proves that three feet is enough to control the spread of Covid.
The CDC believes that the launch of the Covid vaccine is one of the many factors that support the implementation of requiring three feet of distancing instead of six. In early March, President Joe Biden required states to prioritize administering the vaccine to educational and childcare workers in hopes of providing a safer learning atmosphere for students of all ages. Junior Karoline Ryf commented, “I feel happier knowing that my teachers are vaccinated and feel the vaccine not only keeps my teachers stay safe but keeps me safe, too, since it greatly reduces the risk of me contracting the virus.” Ryf has many friends that are attending school fully remote, but she hopes that since most teachers are becoming vaccinated, they will feel safe enough to return to in-person learning.
Many school districts believe that the smaller social distance requirements will provide enough room to welcome back students who wish to come back to school full-time. Because of the previous requirement of six feet of social distancing, many school districts could not accommodate all their pupils in a small classroom, which is why most districts turned to hybrid learning. Now, the extra room in classrooms provided by not having to keep as much distance can be used to bring extra desks and materials needed to provide a positive learning environment suitable for students. Sophomore Adam Samuel felt that having more students in his classes will allow for more involved and engaging classes: “Some of my friends are all remote, but by having more voices during in class discussions, I feel we can really learn from one another. There will always be a risk of contracting Covid-19; however, taking small steps towards normalcy is a chance that everyone is willing to take.”
Many are also looking forward to the positive impact on academics and social and mental health of students being able to come back to school full-time. Since less distancing means schools can accommodate more students, many children will be able to get off of their computers and experience the usual interactive experience of school in person. Sophomore Litza Potosme felt that being closer to her friends makes it easier to learn: “Whenever I wanted to talk to my friends before class started, I always felt uncomfortable since I was so isolated from them. I felt that everyone could hear my conversations, but now I feel it will be easier to communicate with them.” Being able to be closer to their friends and classmates may allow students to feel less isolated, especially when they have been confined to their homes for the past year.
Many people around the country see the implementing of new distancing guidelines as a hopeful prospect for the future; however, others are still skeptical about whether this new guideline is actually safe, or if it is recklessly-made decision that will postpone the ending of the pandemic.