HSR&D Citation Abstract
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Effectiveness of 3 Versus 6 ft of Physical Distancing for Controlling Spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 Among Primary and Secondary Students and Staff: A Retrospective, Statewide Cohort Study.
van den Berg P, Schechter-Perkins EM, Jack RS, Epshtein I, Nelson R, Oster E, Branch-Elliman W. Effectiveness of 3 Versus 6 ft of Physical Distancing for Controlling Spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 Among Primary and Secondary Students and Staff: A Retrospective, Statewide Cohort Study. Clinical infectious diseases : an official publication of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. 2021 Nov 16; 73(10):1871-1878.
National and international guidelines differ about the optimal physical distancing between students for prevention of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) transmission; studies directly comparing the impact of = 3 versus = 6 ft of physical distancing policies in school settings are lacking. Thus, our objective was to compare incident cases of SARS-CoV-2 in students and staff in Massachusetts public schools among districts with different physical distancing requirements. State guidance mandates masking for all school staff and for students in grades 2 and higher; the majority of districts required universal masking.
Community incidence rates of SARS-CoV-2, SARS-CoV-2 cases among students in grades K-12 and staff participating in-person learning, and district infection control plans were linked. Incidence rate ratios (IRRs) for students and staff members in traditional public school districts with = 3 versus = 6 ft of physical distancing were estimated using log-binomial regression; models adjusted for community incidence are also reported.
Among 251 eligible school districts, 537 336 students and 99 390 staff attended in-person instruction during the 16-week study period, representing 6 400 175 student learning weeks and 1 342 574 staff learning weeks. Student case rates were similar in the 242 districts with = 3 versus = 6 ft of physical distancing between students (IRR, 0.891; 95% confidence interval, .594-1.335); results were similar after adjustment for community incidence (adjusted IRR, 0.904; .616-1.325). Cases among school staff in districts with = 3 versus = 6 ft of physical distancing were also similar (IRR, 1.015, 95% confidence interval, .754-1.365).
Lower physical distancing requirements can be adopted in school settings with masking mandates without negatively affecting student or staff safety.