Frequently Asked Questions for Parents and Caregivers about COVID-19 Precautions in Schools
COVID-19 Safety and My School
CDC guidance for K–12 schools changes because what we know about COVID-19 continues to change. This means guidance is updated as CDC learns more about what works best to reduce the risk of getting or spreading COVID-19.
Here are some questions you can ask your child’s school to learn more about their COVID-19 safety strategies.
- What prevention strategies are you currently using to keep my child safe in school?
- How and when are you updating your protocols for COVID-19?
- How are parents and caregivers updated on any changes in the school’s prevention strategies?
- Will you be hosting information sessions about COVID-19 vaccination for parents, guardians, and eligible students?
- Will you offer COVID-19 vaccination at the school?
- Are you requiring educators, staff, or students to be vaccinated against COVID-19?
- Will you be providing screening testing regularly?
- What happens if my child’s teacher gets sick from COVID-19?
- Are there procedures in place for contact tracing? What is your quarantine policy if my child comes into close contact with someone who has COVID-19?
- Are you allowing parents and visitors on campus? And if so, what procedures are you using for guests?
- How will parents be notified if there is a case of COVID-19 at the school or if their child is a close contact?
- Are you using outdoor spaces for learning, extracurricular activities, or mealtime?
- What are you doing to keep students safe when they are eating meals?
- What are my virtual learning options if my child has to quarantine or isolate?
- COVID-19 vaccines reduce the risk of people getting COVID-19 and can also reduce the risk of spreading it. The risk of severe illness is much greater for people who are not vaccinated against COVID-19.
- COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective at preventing severe illness and death from COVID-19.
- CDC recommends everyone ages 5 years and older get an age-appropriate COVID-19 vaccine to help protect against COVID-19.
- People who are fully vaccinated will not be required to quarantine if they come into close contact with someone who has COVID-19.
- Learn more about COVID-19 vaccines and children and teens.
- It depends—vaccination requirements for students are determined by state laws, not CDC. State laws also establish the enforcement of school vaccination requirements and exemptions. Schools that plan to ask about COVID-19 vaccination status should use standard protocols to collect and secure this and other immunization or health status information from students. Data collection and notification of status should align with relevant regulations of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) regulations, and applicable federal, state, and local privacy laws. Check with your state to learn more about school vaccination requirements.
- Yes, but this increases risk of transmission within the school. The most important and effective strategy we have right now to help schools stay open is having high levels of vaccination among students, educators, staff, and family members. Using layered prevention strategies also remain critical to protecting everyone, including students, educators, and staff. Prevention strategies include masking, physical distancing, handwashing, and ventilation.
- Yes, masks work. They limit the spread of germs from one person to another by blocking potential virus particles from entering the air. They also help protect the person wearing the mask because the mask can help prevent that person from breathing in potential virus particles in the air.
- Masks work best when everyone wears a well-fitting mask consistently and correctly.
- When students, educators, and staff wear well-fitting masks consistently and correctly, they can help limit the spread of COVID-19 from one person to another. This is especially important indoors. CDC recommends all schools require that everyone ages 2 years and older wear a well-fitting mask indoors consistently and correctly.
- Yes, masking indoors is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19. CDC recommends all schools require that everyone ages 2 years and older wear a well-fitting mask indoors consistently and correctly. If mask use is optional, students can still wear masks to protect themselves.
No, correctly wearing a mask does not pose a health risk to your child. Studies have shown that masks are safe and effective and that wearing a mask does not increase risk from germs, viruses, or bacteria or increase carbon dioxide levels for children. It is important to store your child’s mask properly and wash it regularly to keep it clean. Consider having your child bring more than one mask to school to easily replace a dirty or wet mask with a clean one.
- Yes, CDC issued an order on January 29, 2021, requiring masks on public transportation. CDC’s Order applies to all public transportation, including school buses. Students and drivers must wear a mask on school buses, including on buses operated by public and private school systems, subject to the exclusions and exemptions in CDC’s Order. Learn more about the requirement for face masks on public transportation.
- Ask your child’s school:
- How are you prepared to respond to an outbreak? What strategies do you have in place to implement contact tracing to help reduce the spread of COVID-19?
- What prevention strategies are you using to reduce risk of spreading COVID-19?
- What are you doing to maintain physical distance between students, educators, and staff in the classroom? In situations when unmasking is essential, such as lunch time, there should be at least 6 feet of distance between all students, educators, and staff.
- What are you doing to improve ventilation throughout the building? This should include bringing outdoor air into the building, enhancing ventilation systems, and using HEPA filters.
- Are you using outdoor spaces for learning and mealtime? An outdoor space may allow for more distancing. Generally, masks don’t need to be worn outside as long as students are not in crowded settings.
Testing and Contact Tracing
- Diagnostic testing is intended to identify current infection in individuals and should be performed on anyone who has signs and symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or who has been identified as a close contact. A laboratory-based nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT) is recommended for diagnostic testing of vaccinated, asymptomatic individuals following recent, known, or suspected exposure to SARS-CoV-2.
- Screening testing is intended to identify people with COVID-19 who are not fully vaccinated, do not have symptoms of COVID-19, and who do not have known, suspected, or reported exposure to COVID-19. Screening helps to identify unknown cases so that measures can be taken to prevent further transmission.
- Learn more about COVID-19 testing.
- Testing is an important layer of prevention that can quickly identify people who have COVID-19 and potentially prevent an outbreak within the school. It is used to identify people with infection, including those with or without symptoms. By identifying infections early, schools can limit COVID-19 transmission and keep students in school for in-person learning, sports, and extracurricular activities.
- School-based testing can make it quick and easy to get your child tested, whether as part of routine screening testing, when they have symptoms, or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. Some schools offer diagnostic testing and some offer both diagnostic and screening testing. Funds are available from the federal government to support testing in schools.
- Find COVID-19 testing locationsexternal icon in your community.
- Regular testing is a key tool to stop COVID-19 from spreading at school. Schools can decide how many students will be tested and how often based on what’s happening in the community.
- For example, if a school decides to test a percentage of the students every week, this does not necessarily mean that your child will be tested each week. They will be tested only if included as part of the percentage tested that week.
- The COVID-19 test can be given in different ways. Most tests use a simple nasal swab, which goes inside the lower nostril like picking your nose, and others use saliva taken from the mouth. You can ask your child’s school what method is used for their testing program so you can tell your child what to expect for their test.
- It depends on the test that the school uses. Some types of viral test results can be available on site in as little as 15 minutes, but other viral tests may need to be performed in a laboratory and could take 24–48 hours or more to be returned.
- Contact your child’s healthcare provider and keep your child home from school. Your child should not go to school, socialize, or participate in any in-person extracurricular activities, and you should follow your child’s school’s instructions for isolation.
- If a test was done outside of school, notify the school about the positive result so that they can perform contact tracing.
- You may also want to ask about the quarantine and isolation policy at your child’s school and whether other children in your home should stay home from school.
- Ask your child’s school about virtual learning options and about their current policies for when your child can return to school.
- If your child is young and needs care, you might designate one person to be the primary caregiver for you child. Ask the designated caregiver to also stay away from the other individuals in the home, when possible, to prevent further spread of COVID-19 in the household.
- If you or anyone in your household tests positive, your child is considered a close contact and should follow public health recommendations for follow-up based on their vaccination status or history of prior infection. Ask your child’s school about virtual learning options during this time and for instructions on when your child can return to school.
- Contact tracing is a prevention strategy that health departments and schools use to provide instructions and support to people who have COVID-19 and their close contact
- Contact tracing can help slow the spread of COVID-19 among students, staff, educators, contractors, and volunteers and can help to prevent school closures due to large-scale outbreaks.
- Contact tracing is most effective when there is a high level of participation by people who have COVID-19 and those identified to be their close contacts.
- If your child tests positive for COVID-19, it is very important to identify anyone that they may have come into close contact with during the 2 days prior to the start of their symptoms, or the date of their positive test if they do not have symptoms.
- You will be asked about your child’s medical history, symptoms, and activities related to COVID-19 transmission. You may be asked to help identify people that your child was around who might be determined to be a close contact.
- Close contacts will need to follow public health recommendations including wearing a mask, getting tested, and quarantining based on their vaccination status and history of prior infection. The information you provide during contact tracing activities will be kept confidential in accordance with applicable federal, state, and local privacy laws and regulations.
Quarantine, Isolation, and Close Contacts
- You quarantine when you have been exposed to COVID-19 and are not fully vaccinated. This is because you might become infected with COVID-19 and could spread COVID-19 to others, even if you do not have symptoms.
- Isolation is used to separate people who have COVID-19 from those who do not have COVID-19. You isolate when you show symptoms of COVID-19 or are infected with COVID-19, even if you don’t have symptoms.
Learn more about COVID-19 quarantine for K–12 schools.
- Yes, your child should stay home if they are showing symptoms of COVID-19. Your child should also get tested for COVID-19. It is very important that your child not attend in-person school when he or she has signs and symptoms. Ask your child’s school about virtual learning options during quarantine and isolation. With symptoms, your child should also not gather in public places, play sports, participate in extracurricular activities, or socialize in-person with people who do not live in your household. This is also true if your child is showing any symptoms of other respiratory illnesses, such as the flu.
- Check with your child’s school to learn more about their sick policies and when students can return to school.
- Learn more about how schools can respond to COVID-19 cases.
- Pick up your child as soon as possible so that they can isolate and arrange for a COVID-19 test. It is very important that your child not attend in-person school when they have signs and symptoms of COVID-19.
- This means your child was exposed to someone with COVID-19 and needs to follow testing, masking, and quarantine guidance from your child’s school based on their vaccination status and history of prior infection.
- CDC recommends a 14-day quarantine for close contacts who are not fully vaccinated before returning to normal activities, including in-person school and school activities. This is because your child can become infected with COVID-19, but may not test positive or show symptoms for up to 14 days. In fact, some data show that a person can spread COVID-19 before they show symptoms or even without symptoms. You should consult with your child’s school and follow attendance protocols for close contacts who are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated.
- If your child develops symptoms at any point during quarantine, they need to get tested and isolate immediately. Be sure to notify your child’s school if this happens and reach out to your healthcare provider.
- People who are fully vaccinated should get tested 5–7 days after coming into close contact with someone with COVID-19 and wear a mask indoors in public for 14 days or until they test negative. If symptoms develop, they should isolate and get tested immediately.
- People who have had COVID-19 within the past 90 days and recovered should wear a mask indoors in public for 14 days after exposure, monitor for symptoms, and consult with a healthcare professional for testing recommendations if they develop new symptoms.
- Test to Stay combines contact tracing and frequent testing to allow close contacts who are not fully vaccinated and who do not have symptoms of COVID-19 to continue in-person learning.
- Studies have shown that transmission in the school setting can remain low when Test to Stay was implemented in combination with layered prevention measures, such as wearing a mask.
- Schools considering Test to Stay should have a strong contact tracing program and access to testing resources (for example, testing supplies and personnel), since these are important for effectively implementing Test to Stay. Testing frequency can vary, but more frequent testing is better to quickly identify students who are infected with COVID-19 and need to isolate.
- Schools may consider Test to Stay as an option for keeping close contacts who are not fully vaccinated in the classroom as an alternative to traditional quarantine at home. You can ask your school whether they offer Test to Stay.
Sports and Activities
- It depends—extracurricular activities that involve heavier breathing will be higher risk without masks, without ventilation, and without physical distancing. Masks should be worn during indoor sports and other activities that meet indoors, such as band, choir, theater, and school clubs. Masks should not be worn while swimming since a wet mask can make it difficult to breathe and may not work as intended.
- Your child should get vaccinated as soon as eligible and should not participate in sports or activities if they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
- CDC recommends that schools cancel sports and extracurricular activities or make them fully virtual if your child’s school is an area of high community transmission, unless all participants are fully vaccinated.
- It is safest to participate in these types of activities when everyone is fully vaccinated. Schools can implement a testing (sometimes called “test to play”) or vaccination requirement for participating to keep your child safe.
- Physical distancing should be used at sporting events (such as fields, benches/team areas, locker rooms, spectator viewing areas, spectator facilities/restrooms) along with signage about wearing masks for all guests to see.
- Yes, these active times during the school day help children learn and achieve as well as support their social, emotional, and mental health. Being outside is better than indoors, but when physical education and recess are held indoors, it is important to have good ventilation and for everyone to wear masks and maximize distance as much as possible. Ask your child’s school about their ventilation, mask, and distancing policies during recess and physical education to stay informed about the risk to your child.
- In general, students, educators, and staff do not need to wear masks when participating in recess and physical education outdoors.
- Yes, more is known about how long the virus stays on surfaces compared with last year. Kids can safely use playground equipment with just daily cleaning. Students, educators, and staff members should wash their hands before and after use of any playground equipment. Cleaning and disinfection between every use of playground and physical education equipment are not needed.
- Yes, but your child should wash their hands or use hand sanitizer before, during, and after use of any shared materials. Cleaning and disinfection between every use of art supplies, sports equipment, or music sheets is not needed.
- Keeping hands clean and regularly cleaning surfaces help prevent a variety of diseases and infections. Handwashing stations are recommended for students, educators, and staff to access whenever they may need to remove their mask, while sharing objects, after coughing or sneezing, before and after eating, and after using the restroom.
- Yes, ask your child’s school about their mealtime protocols. Schools should require masks and distancing in food service lines, keep students at least 6 feet apart while eating, have students put their masks back on after eating, and do everything possible to improve ventilation, which includes using outdoor space. If students are not spaced 6 feet apart with proper ventilation, this is a high-risk situation because masks are removed while eating.
- That is one of many ways to improve ventilation. Opening windows brings fresh air into the classroom and can reduce the number of virus particles in the air as long it does not become a safety or health risk to the students.
- Bus drivers can open or crack windows a few inches to improve air circulation.
- There are several other ways schools can improve ventilation.
- Moving classes outside when weather permits.
- Opening multiple doors.
- Using child-safe fans.
- Making changes to the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) or air filtration systems.
- Keeping the ventilation system running all day—especially whenever students are gathering.
- Schools can layer prevention strategies, such as requiring masks, promoting vaccination, improving ventilation, and physical distancing. If the school is not using layered prevention strategies and you have concerns about sending your child to school under those circumstances, ask about virtual learning options available to protect your child who is at increased risk for COVID-19.
- It depends—it is most advisable for schools to use masking with layered prevention strategies. You can also use layered prevention strategies at home. One way to help protect everyone is to make sure that all adults and eligible youth in a household are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Learn more about other strategies you can use if both vaccinated and not fully vaccinated people are living together in your household.
- Yes, administrators are required to work with your child and your family to understand your child’s needs, provide access to required services, and adjust strategiesexternal icon as needed.
- Physical distancing and wearing masks may be difficult for some people with certain disabilities, who may be exempted from some of these requirements.
- When educators and staff wear a mask, some children may have challenges with communication and learning. In such situations, educators and staff might be able to wear a clear or cloth mask with a clear panel when interacting with younger children, children learning to read, or people who rely on reading lips.
- No, CDC does not have regulatory authority over schools. CDC’s Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in Schools does recommend that schools provide accommodations, modifications, and assistance for students, educators, and staff members with disabilities and other health care needs. It is always appropriate for you, as a parent or caregiver, to speak with your child’s school administration about any specific health concerns you may have about your child.
- For students with disabilitiesexternal icon, the Individualized Education Program (IEP) Team at your school must develop the education program and then determine the student’s educational placement. The IEP Team must also consider whether the student needs assistive technology devices and services.
- Community transmission, also known as community spread, means the virus that causes COVID-19 is spreading and infecting people in your local area. You can check the COVID Data Tracker to determine the level of community transmission in your county.
- The more cases there are in the community, the higher the chance that a student, educator, or staff member will come to your child’s school with COVID-19. Using layered prevention strategies is critical to reduce school transmission.