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Study: full 6-feet distance may not be necessary in schools

Posted at 4:54 PM, Mar 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-17 19:36:17-04

BALTIMORE — Some schools nationwide want to cut the social distancing rule in half in order to get more kids back in the classroom.

"It’s great news potentially but it’s only one study," said Dr. Christopher Thompson, an associate professor of biology at Loyola University Maryland.

A recent study found no significant difference in COVID-19 case rates in Massachusetts schools that implemented 3-feet vs. 6-feet minimum distance as long as masks are worn.

Thompson is wary.

"There have been a lot of comments about how children don’t spread the disease as much as adults do. There is really only one published study that has been highly cited and that has been attacked by a lot of scientists for not the best approach to the methodologies and the science so it’s still an unknown how much children are going to transmit the disease," said Thompson. "I don’t know that we should change policy based upon that one study. Especially with the spread of the variants, we need to be very cautious right now."

Thompson said while the country as a whole is making progress, cases in Maryland have been on the rise.

"The last two weeks in the U.S., we’ve seen a 17-19 percent drop in the number of cases, which is fantastic but in Maryland, we’ve seen a 9 percent rise," said Thompson.

It’s not a surprise to him, since kids went back to school this month, capacity restrictions were lifted and it’s getting nicer out.

"I just hope we can contain it soon," said Thompson.

The CDC is looking for more data before revisiting the current guidance, which is at least 6 feet apart when feasible.

The Maryland Department of Health said local jurisdictions can interpret the guidance to suit their individual needs.

Baltimore and Harford County Public Schools said in the meantime, they will continue following the current recommendation.

As Carroll County Public Schools brings more students in-person, they have reiterated that 6 feet is not always possible in every situation and are posting class sizes and numbers of students on buses so that parents can make informed decisions.

The school system said in a statement that by layering mitigation strategies, like requiring masks, adding HEPA air purifiers to all classrooms and creating as much distance as possible, they feel they have reopened successfully with minimal instances of in school transmission.

About 23 percent of Maryland's population has received at least one vaccine dose, and it will take 70-80 percent to reach herd immunity. Thompson said for now, masking and social distancing is still the most important thing we can do.

"22 percent of our population are children who at this point can’t get vaccinated… and we have people who are not going to get the vaccine," said Thompson. "We are not out of the woods. Dr. Fauci in fact said don’t spike the ball at the five-yard line. We are not in the end zone yet."