Effectiveness of three versus six feet of physical distancing for controlling spread of COVID-19 among primary and secondary students and staff: A retrospective, state-wide cohort study

March 10, 2021

Polly van den Berg, Elissa M. Schechter-Perkins, Rebecca S Jack, Isabella Epshtein, Richard Nelson, Emily Oster, Westyn Branch-Elliman.

Clinical Infectious Diseases

Evidence for physical distancing to mitigate SARS-CoV-2 transmission in primary and secondary educational settings remains limited. In this retrospective analysis of data from public schools in the state of Massachusetts that were opened with any in-person learning, we sought to measure the effectiveness of different policies of physical distancing (≥3 versus ≥6 feet) on the incidence of SARS-CoV- 2 infections among students and school staff after school reopened in fall 2020. Obtained data on SARS-CoV-2 positive case counts from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) website , where publicly available, for the period of September 24, 2020 to January 27, 2021. Districts that implemented ≥3 feet of distance between students reported 895 cases among students and 431 cases among staff. Districts with ≥6 feet of physical distance reported 3,223 cases among students and 2,382 among staff. Increasing physical distancing requirements from 3 to 6 feet in school settings is not associated with a reduction in SARS-CoV-2 cases among students or staff, provided other mitigation measures are implemented, such as masking universal. While incidence rates for both students and staff were lower than cases in surrounding communities, we found a strong correlation between community rates and positive cases in schools, particularly among school staff. Three-foot physical distancing is more easily achieved in most school districts, including public ones, and thus relaxing the distancing requirements is likely to have the impact of increasing the number of students who can benefit from additional in-person learning .

Berg P., Schechter-Perkins E., Jack R., Epshtein I. Effectiveness of three versus six feet of physical distancing for controlling spread of COVID- 19 among primary and secondary students and staff: A retrospective, state-wide cohort study. Clinical Infectious Diseases 2021, https://doi.org/10.1093/cid/ciab230

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