In September/October 2020, there were news stories that claimed that school administrators were trying to "game" the contact-tracing rules (which required registering 15 minutes close contacts between students), by having students change seating arrangements every 14 minutes (or less in some accounts).

The Des Moines Register reported that it was not mandated in Iowa's Waukee School District, but was left to individual teachers to decide.

The NY Times article reported that Montana's Billings School District encouraged teachers to do so.

However, the Billings Gazette went further:

Administrators in at least two Billings high schools have been asking educators to shuffle students in classrooms to avoid having them register as a close contact of potential COVID-19 positive cases, emails show. "Please be practicing with your classes moving every 14 minutes when students are closer than 6 feet apart and with each other for 15 minutes or more," wrote Dar Schaaf, a Career Center associate principal. "Do this to protect them from Close Contact Tracing." Kelly Hornby, the principal at West High, gave his staff similar guidance.

According to that article, district superintendent Greg Upham wrote in an email to school administrators:

Please remind your staff and students to be cognizant of this definition and whenever possible, disrupt the 15 minute timeline, through movement, distancing and masking. This will assist our contact tracers in reducing the number of students and staff who are identified as close contacts and placed into quarantine, not to mention the obvious element of overall safety for everyone.

I can easily believe that this happened. However, the article goes on to say:

The emails from administrators show that in at least some schools, the rule translated into a game of musical chairs every 14 minutes.

I interpret this as meaning that the rules were actually implemented in at least some classrooms. I am skeptical.

In Iowa it has been claimed that some schools were "trying out" the method:

Jesse Persons is the mother of a sophomore at Woodbury Central High School in Moville—the other school that is attempting the use of movement every 14 minutes. Persons said she met with the district Superintendent Doug Glackin to voice concerns she had with the practice.

Glackin told her that the school was “trying out” the 14-minute break as an effort to minimize the number of students in quarantine.

Were these "COVID Shuffle" rules - i.e. of making students swap desks every 14 minutes or so - ever carried out in any US schools?

  • 2
    I've have folded a few comments into an edit, and deleted the conversation that seemed to be getting snippy, but to summarise: There is a difference of opinion on the interpretation of the claim - does the Billings Gazette mean to imply that any classrooms actually carried it out? I think given the ambiguity, we can assume people read the claim as the OP did, and believe that it actually happened, so let's accept it as notable.
    – Oddthinking
    Sep 29, 2021 at 8:34
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    @Oddthinking: Thank you for your edit! Concerning interpretation, I note that an anonymous commenter on the Iowa article says "I do personally know of some Iowa school districts that are moving kids every 14 minutes to prevent having to quarantine when there is a positive case in the classroom. I also know of some school districts that the teachers were not told this. I do not know the case for Waukee.", so this is clearly not just a matter of interpretation of news articles. As per your edit, I do want to know whether it ever happened or not. Thanks!
    – user21820
    Sep 29, 2021 at 8:35
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    @bibleblade: The original rule is from CDC and clearly involves total duration. Of course shuffling around is worse than staying still. However, I think the evidence is clear enough that at least emails were really sent out suggesting regular shuffling. The existence of the emails themselves is crazy enough that I think some teachers actually followed them. The thing is that it's crazy. Hence the skepticism.
    – user21820
    Sep 29, 2021 at 9:22
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    @bibleblade: And to make clear, your country's app is correct. In an enclosed space, the distance does not really matter much because the coronavirus is easily transmitted via aerosols that circulate throughout enclosed spaces. In contrast, if there is good ventilation with regular flow of fresh air through a space, the risk of infection does indeed rapidly decrease with increasing distance from an infected person. The problem is that people like to congregate in enclosed spaces.
    – user21820
    Sep 29, 2021 at 9:25
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    @PCLuddite: unfortunately what the CDC says is taken as gospel in some corners. In 2021 there's the 14-minute lunch break in schools... abc7news.com/windsor-ca-unified-school-district-lunches/… (It's true that this came down via state guidelines, but guess what inspired those...)
    – Fizz
    Sep 30, 2021 at 3:11


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