On March 19, 2021, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) released updated guidelines for K-12 schools that is anticipated to facilitate the reopening of schools across the country.  The CDC states that “[o]pening schools for in-person learning as safely and quickly as possible, and keeping them open, is important given the many known and established benefits of in-person learning.”

The CDC now provides that students in elementary, middle, and high school “should be at least 3 feet apart.”  This is a reduction from the previous recommendation of 6 feet of physical distancing.  However, for middle and high school students in areas with high community transmission, students should be 6 feet apart.  Additionally, 6 feet of distance should remain between adults and students; when in common areas; in activities with increased exhalation like singing, band, and sports; and when masks are off, such as while eating.

The updated guidelines state that “ventilation is a component of strategies to clean and maintain healthy facilities” and removed the prior recommendation of physical barriers.  The CDC also provides that teachers and staff should maintain 6 feet of distance in the school building.

In support of their guidelines, the CDC cited to three studies from the Weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report:

  1. Doyle T et al., COVID-19 in Primary and Secondary School Settings During the First Semester of School Reopening – Florida, August-December, 2020. MMWR 2021; March 19, 2021.
  2. Hershow RB et al., Low SARS-CoV-2 Transmission in Elementary Schools – Salt Lake County, Utah, December 3, December 3, 2020-January 31, 2021. MMWR 2021; March 19, 2021.
  3. Volpp KG et al., Minimal SARS-CoV-2 Transmission Following Implementation of a Comprehensive School Mitigation Strategy – New Jersey, August 20-November 27, 2020. MMWR 2021; March 19, 2021.

A day earlier President Biden announced that his goal of administering 100 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to Americans would be met more than a month ahead of his goal.  It was also announced that the United States would share four million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine with Mexico and Canada.  President Biden had previously announced that the United States would share any surplus vaccines with the rest of the world.

Norton Rose Fulbright lawyers will continue to provide relevant updates on the COVID-19 PHE on the Health Law Pulse.