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Did Dr. Fauci just move the goalposts when it comes to the 6-foot social distancing rule?

Coronavirus update

The latest coronavirus update for the US looks more promising than ever, with new COVID-19 cases trending downward from their peak in recent months. Vaccinations are also proceeding at a steady clip, with more than 107 million doses of the Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson shot now having been administered in the US since December. That’s according to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker, which adds that we’re about 5 months away from covering 75% of the US population with a full two-dose coronavirus vaccine series — more than enough to achieve herd immunity in the population here.

As a consequence of all this, changes in the local, state, and national responses to the coronavirus pandemic in the US have begun to be considered. Some states, like Texas and Mississippi, have started rolling back measures at the state level, like face mask mandates. Meanwhile, White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci has seemed to endorse a possible change that could emerge from the CDC in a matter of days, related to one of the most widely-practiced safety measures in the wake of the pandemic.

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In a conversation with CNN on Sunday, Dr. Fauci was asked whether new data suggests 3 feet of distance between people is a safe distance, compared to 6 feet, in schools. “It does, indeed,” Dr. Fauci said, in response to the question about a study which found that keeping people 6 feet apart in Massachusetts schools didn’t seem to make much difference compared to keeping people only 3 feet apart. And, of course, almost everyone – students and school staff alike – wore face masks.

The study was published last week in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases. Researchers behind the study from Harvard Medical School and Boston University School of Medicine analyzed data from 537,336 students in 251 Massachusetts school districts. “The CDC is very well aware that data are accumulating making it look more like 3 feet are okay, under certain circumstances,” Dr. Fauci said about the results, which were contingent on universal mask-wearing. “They’re analyzing that, and I can assure you within a reasonable period of time — quite reasonable — they will be giving guidelines according to the data that they have. It won’t be very long.”

For now, even though it seems that public health officials are poised to publicly declare that a shorter distance between people is acceptable in certain circumstances, like schools where everyone is masking, the current guidance is still to follow the 6-foot social distancing rule.

“I don’t want to get ahead of official guidelines,” Dr. Fauci said, adding that he can’t say for sure yet when or if the agency will proceed with this recommendation. “What the CDC wants to do is accumulate data, and when data shows (the) ability to be 3 feet (apart), they will act accordingly.”

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Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming. Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.