Lowcountry schools, doctors weigh in on 3-foot social distancing in classes

VIDEO: Lowcountry schools, doctors weigh in on 3-foot social distancing in classes

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - New three-feet social distancing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control could help allow schools to shorten their distance requirements in the classroom.

But for most Lowcountry school districts, a varied form of three-foot social distancing with physical barriers is already in place, per current DHEC guidelines.

Dorchester District 2 nurse coordinator Amanda Santamaria said most classrooms currently have students three feet apart with plexiglass in-between. However, six feet is the standard in situations where plexiglass can’t be used.

“So as long as proper plexiglass is in use, the students are able to be seated three feet apart versus six feet apart,” Santamaria said.

Santamaria said if the new guidance is accepted by the state department of health, the district may re-evaluate at their current six-foot rule.

“If that guidance for three feet of distancing is implemented and DHEC implemented it as well and we will look at introducing that,” Santamaria said. “That would really only impact our current settings where we’re not already at that three feet of distance we’re plexiglass isn’t in use.”

Dr. Allison Eckard, division chief for pediatric infectious diseases at MUSC, said the safety of shortening the distance between students is not a simple answer.

“We’ve known, pre-covid, that the majority of droplets go three feet. But there are still a significant number that go three to six feet,” Eckard said. “We have to be a little bit careful about how we’re going to do this.”

She said she believes plexiglass dividers to be the best tool for shorter distancing, but any students less than six feet will have to wear masks.

“If we can adjust the closeness of our students to three feet, we’re going to be able to accommodate more students in the classroom,” Eckard said. “We have to make sure three feet doesn’t become two feet or one and a half feet.”

Charleston County School District Chief Operating Officer Jeff Borowy said schools are getting advice from medical experts and, for the time being, will continue keeping students three feet apart with plexiglass barriers.

Berkeley County School District officials plans to discuss the CDC update on Monday.

“Classrooms were organized with social distancing in mind, but we could not guarantee 6 feet of spacing based on the number of students who opted for in-person instruction,” BCSD spokesperson Katie Turner said. “I anticipate that we will discuss this update on Monday to determine if there is support for reducing the distance in areas where 6 feet of spacing has been able to be achieved.”

Dorchester District Four leaders say they will continue their six-foot rule.

“At this time, DD4 is continuing to state 6 feet social distancing in our guidance in addition to a mask requirement,” DD4 spokesperson Andrea Matrell Sturkey said. “If the CDC changes its stance, we will continue with our current guidelines, however, should we have places where 6 feet is not possible, we will allow for a reduction in space to no less than the distance the CDC recommends. We will continue to monitor CDC updates and guidance.”

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