UMBC’s Fall 2021 planning emphasizes physical distancing as a primary safety measure, with three feet being the minimum standard. This page provides some of the scientific and public health guidance that informed this decision. As with all precautions relative to COVID19, UMBC has strived to emphasize the importance of safety of our students, staff, and faculty. Our precautions have used a layered approach that takes into account all factors and data. Physical distancing is one of the many elements that we consider in our decisions on COVID19 safety. Symptom monitoring, testing, tracing, low positivity rates, exposure time, vaccination, quarantines, ventilation, and face masks are other elements that together with physical distancing can reduce the risk of virus transmission.
***As of May 13, 2021 the CDC has stated that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting. Given that UMBC is requiring vaccination for the Fall 2021 semester, we anticipate that this strategy may evolve over the coming months. ***
UMBC’s guidance of three feet in physical distancing for classroom spaces is the result of consideration of a broad range of information. This includes the CDC’s guidelines for K-12 spaces and that provided by the World Health Organization which recommends one meter (equivalent to 3.28 feet).
A number of campuses, including College Park, have removed physical distancing from their plans by putting forward class schedules at full capacity. Currently, UMBC has a more conservative approach. Some conservative workplace guidelines are designed for an eight hour day wherein coworkers will be adjacent to one another. This is not the case for classes, since they are shorter and in most cases faculty can be more than six feet away from students. In addition, UMBC’s plan for the most likely scenario in the Fall takes into account that the current K-12 guidance is for an environment where students are not currently vaccinated, there is very limited testing and limited monitoring or compliance controls. Multiple studies have demonstrated low transmission and outbreaks in K-12 schools, including when using 3 feet as the standard.
UMBC has experienced virtually no instances of transmissions of COVID from in-person classes during the fall and spring semesters. UMBC has in place a strong compliance program and an effective rapid response contact response team. Increasing data has become available as to the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccination, showing remarkably low rates of disease acquisition and transmission among those fully vaccinated with FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines. This, combined with high levels of vaccination in the community, greatly reduces the risk of COVID-19 spread in a classroom via airborne, droplet and contact transmission mechanisms. The CDC reports, among 95 million vaccinated people, an infection rate of < 0.01%.