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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today updated its guidance on school reopening and said that for most elementary and middle schools across the country, at least 3 feet of physical distancing is sufficient when masks are worn properly.
For middle schools and high schools in areas with high community transmission, 6 feet of distancing is still recommended unless students can cohort in small groups. And 6 feet is still required when students are not wearing masks—while eating lunch, for example.
“The science that tells us K through 12 schools can operate safely, we have seen data demonstrating this is safe even in areas of high community spread,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, said today during a White House COVID-19 briefing.
Studies show low in-school spread
She said three studies published today in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report continue to demonstrate that schools can operate safely regardless of community spread levels. The studies looked at COVID-19 transmission in in-person school districts in Florida, Salt Lake City, and Springfield, Missouri.
In all three studies, authors concluded that the majority of cases in the schools were not linked to in-school transmission.
In Florida during the fall semester, 60% of COVID-19 cases in school-aged children were not school-related. In Salt Lake City, despite high community transmission and students spaced closer than 6 feet apart, there were no school-related outbreaks in 20 elementary schools with high student mask use.
In Springfield, researchers conducted a 2-week pilot investigation in K–12 schools that implemented multiple strategies to limit COVID-19 transmission, including mask wearing and ventilation. During the 2 weeks, school-based secondary transmission involving 37 participating students, teachers, and staff members with COVID-19 was identified among only two (2%) of 102 tested school close contacts.
Walensky said this data was driving the CDC’s updates.
“CDC is committed to leading with science and updating our guidance as new evidence emerges,” said Walensky in a press release. “Safe in-person instruction gives our kids access to critical social and mental health services that prepare them for the future, in addition to the education they need to succeed.”
Goal of 100 million shots met in 58 days
As announced yesterday, the Biden administration met its goal of administering 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine in under 100 days.
According to Jeff Zients, coordinator of the White House’s COVID-19 response, the administration is giving 22 million doses to the states each week and averaging 2.5 million vaccinations per day. Zients also confirmed the Biden administration was loaning a portion of AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine to Mexico and Canada.
About 2.5 million doses would go to Mexico and 1.5 million to Canada, none of which, Zients said, diminishes vaccine supply for US citizens. The AstraZeneca vaccine is not approved for use yet in the United States, but the national stockpile holds 7 million doses of the vaccine, the White House said yesterday.
Today the New York Times reported officials in 17 states have committed to opening COVID-19 vaccines appointments to all adults in March or April. At least 23 states have said they will do so on or before May 1. The Biden administration is committed to having all US adults eligible for vaccination by May 1.
Variant accounts for up to 30% of US cases
Vaccinating the country has become a race against the spread of more transmissible variants, which now account for approximately 30% of cases in the United States, Anthony Fauci, MD, chief medical advisor to the White House, said during today’s press briefing.
“The concern is we have B117 spreading, and it’s 50% more transmissible than the wild type virus,” Fauci said. However, vaccines are effective in preventing severe illness and hospitalization for cases caused by B117.
The CDC variant tracker shows 5,567 B117 cases in 50 states, 180 B1351 cases in 26 states, and 48 P1 cases in 15 states.
The United States reported 59,822 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, and 1,611 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker. In total the United States has 29,699,099 confirmed COVID-19 cases, and 540,430 deaths.