During Wednesday's Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) pressed CDC Director Rochelle Walensky about the mental health crisis among children who have been forced to adapt to at-home learning during the pandemic. Rodgers noted that the six feet social distancing rules have severely hampered kids going back to their classrooms. With new science revealing that a three foot separation is comparable, Rodgers wondered if the agency had plans to amend their rules.
“We know CDC’s guidance requiring six feet of separation is a significant obstacle for schools to reopen," Rodgers said. "I’ve heard it in Eastern Washington and I’ve heard it across the country. But that guidance does not seem to be based on the weight of scientific evidence. "
Rep. Rodgers even quoted Dr. Walensky to make her point.
“Dr. Walensky, your home state already allows three feet," the representative continued. "Colorado allows three feet. The WHO advises three feet. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health cites three feet. The American Academy of Pediatrics says three feet is sufficient. The CDC even published a study at the end of January that showed minimal in-school spread with students not maintaining six feet of distance. Before joining the CDC, you yourself agreed three feet is safe. In this July 17, 2020 email, you advised your hometown mayor that... quote 'if people are masked, it is quite safe and much more practical to be at three feet.'"
"Yes or no—if people are masked, is it safe and more practical for schools to reopen with three feet of distance?" Rodgers asked.
The witness said Rodgers made an "important point."
“You raise an important point on the six feet versus three feet question," Walensky replied. "As soon as our guidance came out, it became very clear that six feet was among the very thing that was keeping schools closed. In that context, science evolves. There was one study that was published late last week that demonstrates in Massachusetts, where there is generally 100 percent mask wearing, that three feet is actually safe. Student rates and teacher rates of disease were the same in 3 feet versus 6 feet. There are other emerging students that I am aware of. As we look at those studies in the context of this Massachusetts study we are looking to update our guidance.”
Rep. Rodgers urged Walensky to "act now."
ABC News reported on Thursday, a day after Rodgers's grilling, that the CDC is expected to revise school guidance this Friday.
ABC News confirms the CDC is expected to revise its school guidance as early as Friday, citing new research that found infection rates was similar at 3-feet vs 6-feet.— Anne Flaherty (@AnneKFlaherty) March 18, 2021
It's a change that could mean the difference between hybrid and full-time in-person learning for many schools.