The Lead

Starting next week, Pa. school kids can be 3 feet, not 6 feet apart, under updated social distancing guidelines

By: - March 30, 2021 5:04 pm

Weeks after Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced that COVID-19 mitigation restrictions would be lifted for bars, restaurants and entertainment venues, state officials are issuing updated guidelines for schools that will take effect next week. 

On a call with reporters Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Department of Education updated the commonwealth’s COVID-19 guidance for schools effective April 5. 

The updated guidance recommends that elementary school students be at least 3 feet apart in classrooms, a change from the previous requirement of 6 feet. 

Middle and high school students should be at least 3 feet apart in counties with low or moderate community transmission levels, according to Department of Health data. 

In counties with substantial community spread, middle and high school students should continue to follow the 6-foot social distancing rule, if cohorting, or podding, is not possible. 

The universal mask requirement remains in place. 

The 6-foot social distancing rule should be remain in the following settings: 

  • Between adults in the school building (teachers and staff), and between adults and students,
  • When masks can’t be worn, such as when eating,
  • During activities when increased exhalation occurs, such as singing, shouting, band, or sports and exercise. Move these activities outdoors or to large, well-ventilated space, 
  • In common areas such as school lobbies and auditoriums.

State officials also issued revised guidelines for how schools across Pennsylvania should handle confirmed COVID-19 cases among teachers and students. 

The recommendations vary and are based on a few factors, including the level of community transmission in each county, the number of cases among students and staff in each school building during the past 14 days and the size of the school building.

The new state guidelines follow federal Centers for Disease Control recommendations, Pennsylvania COVID-19 Response Director Dr. Wendy Braund noted. 

She briefly noted that guidance for summer camps remains “mostly unchanged.”

Braund told reporters Tuesday that the new recommendations were based on “real-world evidence in school situations” that showed transmission in schools was most often adult-to-adult or adult-to-child.

As of March 22, Pennsylvania has vaccinated 112,172 teachers. Braund confirmed Tuesday that “they [the department] hope to complete the initiative at the end of the week.”


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