Henrico Schools sticks with 6 feet for physical distancing in classrooms

On March 19, the CDC revised its guidelines recommending at least three-feet

Henrico Schools stays with 6 ft distancing

HENRICO Co., Va. (WWBT) - Despite new social distancing guidelines for K-12 schools from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Henrico County Public Schools (HCPS) is sticking with six feet.

On March 19, the CDC updated its school guidance recommending students should maintain a distance of at least three feet in classroom settings.

The CDC updated its operational strategy as follows:

  • In elementary schools, CDC recommends all students remain at least 3 feet apart in classrooms where mask use is universal — regardless of whether community transmission is low, moderate, substantial, or high.
  • In middle and high schools, CDC also recommends students should be at least 3 feet apart in classrooms where mask use is universal and in communities where transmission is low, moderate, or substantial.
  • Middle school students and high school students should be at least 6 feet apart in communities where transmission is high, if cohorting is not possible. Cohorting is when groups of students are kept together with the same peers and staff throughout the school day to reduce the risk for spread throughout the school.  This recommendation is because COVID-19 transmission dynamics are different in older students – that is, they are more likely to be exposed to SARS-CoV-2 and spread it than younger children.

However, during Thursday’s HCPS’s school board work session, the health committee recommended keeping students and staff six feet apart.

“Even being six feet apart I don’t trust it,” said Monica Hutchinson, a HCPS parent of three.

It is why Hutchinson’s children are learning online this year and said the call by Henrico Schools was the right one.

“I mean we’re constantly getting emails about a COVID case in a school,” she said.

“The change from six to three is not a change we’re looking to make now and that’s primarily their (the health committee) recommendation based on the fact that contact tracing guidelines have not changed - they remain six feet for 15 minutes,” said HCPS Superintendent Dr. Amy Cashwell.

Henrico school leaders fear decreasing the physical distance could amplify issues with contact tracing.

“Three feet could put us in the position to be contact tracing more people out of school than having students remain in school,” Cashwell said.

Since the gradual expansion of in-person learning started on Feb. 22, 719 students and staff have been quarantined due to possible exposure. That number comes from possible exposures in schools, on buses, or during school activities and sports. Since Feb. 22 there have been 72 positive COVID-19 cases.

“What we’re seeing on the buses with the three-foot social distancing, that’s creating more contacts and putting more students out,” said Dr. Beth Teigen, HCPS Chief of Staff.

Since the end of February, the health committee stated there were two confirmed outbreaks with another two-pending confirmation.

“Three of the cases are tied to buses,” said HCPS School Health Services Supervisor Robin Gilbert, RN. “One of the cases is a classroom.”

“If we are already having such a high number of cases with the kids six feet apart, bringing the kids together is only going to make it worse,” Hutchinson said.

NBC12 spoke with the HCPS transportation director earlier this week who said they are doing everything they can to mitigate the risk of transmission on the buses.

Therefore, even if the school system were to shift to three-foot distancing, all secondary students should still be kept six feet apart.

For a breakdown on COVID-19 cases in the Henrico County Public School system, click here.

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