As some communities in the United States open K-12 schools, CDC offers the following considerations for ways in which schools can help protect students, teachers, administrators and staff and slow the spread of COVID-19.
Schools can determine, in collaboration with state and local health officials to the extent possible, whether and how to implement these considerations while adjusting to meet the unique needs and circumstances of the local community. Implementation should be guided by what is feasible, practical, acceptable and tailored to the needs of each community.
These considerations are meant to supplement — not replace — any state, local, territorial or tribal health and safety laws, rules, and regulations with which schools must comply.
The more people a student or staff member interacts with, and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread.
The risk of COVID-19 spread increases in school settings as follows:
Lowest Risk: Students and teachers engage in virtual-only classes, activities and events.
More Risk: Small, in-person classes, activities and events. Groups of students stay together and with the same teacher throughout/across school days and groups do not mix. Students remain at least 6 feet apart and do not share objects (e.g., hybrid virtual and in-person class structures, or staggered/rotated scheduling to accommodate smaller class sizes).
Highest Risk: Full-sized, in-person classes, activities and events. Students are not spaced apart, share classroom materials or supplies, and mix between classes and activities.
Schools may consider implementing several strategies to encourage behaviors that reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Staying home when appropriate
Educate staff and families about when they/their children should stay home and when they can return to school.
Actively encourage employees and students who are sick or who have recently had close contact with a person with COVID-19 to stay home. Develop policies that encourage sick employees and students to stay at home without fear of reprisal, and ensure employees, students, and students’ families are aware of these policies. Consider not having perfect attendance awards, not assessing schools based on absenteeism, and offering virtual learning and telework options, if feasible.
Staff and students should stay home if they have tested positive for or are showing COVID-19 symptoms.
Staff and students who have recently had close contact with a person with COVID-19 should also stay home and monitor their health.
Hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette
Teach and reinforce hand-washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and increase monitoring to ensure adherence among students and staff.
If soap and water are not readily available, hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol can be used (for staff and older children who can safely use hand sanitizer).
Encourage staff and students to cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue. Used tissues should be thrown in the trash and hands washed immediately with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
Cloth face coverings
Teach and reinforce use of cloth face coverings. Face coverings may be challenging for students (especially younger students) to wear in all-day settings such as school. Face coverings should be worn by staff and students (particularly older students) as feasible — and are most essential in times when physical distancing is difficult. Individuals should be frequently reminded not to touch the face covering and to wash their hands frequently. Information should be provided to staff, students, and students’ families on proper use, removal, and washing of cloth face coverings.
Cloth face coverings should not be placed on: children younger than 2 years old; anyone who has trouble breathing or is unconscious; or anyone who is incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the cloth face covering without assistance.
Cloth face coverings are meant to protect other people in case the wearer is unknowingly infected but does not have symptoms. Cloth face coverings are not surgical masks, respirators, or other medical personal protective equipment.
Support healthy hygiene behaviors by providing adequate supplies, including soap, hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol (for staff and older children who can safely use hand sanitizer), paper towels, tissues, disinfectant wipes, cloth face coverings (as feasible) and no-touch/foot-pedal trash cans.
Signs and messages
Post signs in highly visible locations (e.g., school entrances, restrooms) that promote everyday protective measures icon and describe how to stop the spread of germs (such as by properly washing hands and properly wearing a cloth face covering).
Broadcast regular announcements on reducing the spread of COVID-19 on PA systems. Include messages (for example, videos) about behaviors that prevent the spread of COVID-19 when communicating with staff and families (such as on school websites, in emails and on school social-media accounts).
Cleaning and disinfection
Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces (e.g., playground equipment, door handles, sink handles, drinking fountains) within the school and on school buses at least daily or between use as much as possible. Use of shared objects (e.g., gym or physical education equipment, art supplies, toys, games) should be limited when possible or cleaned between use.
If transport vehicles (e.g., buses) are used by the school, drivers should practice all safety actions and protocols as indicated for other staff (e.g., hand hygiene, cloth face coverings). To clean and disinfect school buses or other transport vehicles, see guidance for bus transit operators.
Develop a schedule for increased, routine cleaning and disinfection.
Ensure safe and correct use and storage of cleaning and disinfection products, including storing products securely away from children. Use products that meet EPA disinfection criteria.
Cleaning products should not be used near children, and staff should ensure that there is adequate ventilation when using these products to prevent children or themselves from inhaling toxic fumes.
Discourage sharing of items that are difficult to clean or disinfect.
Keep each child’s belongings separated from others’ and in individually labeled containers, cubbies or areas.
Ensure adequate supplies to minimize sharing of high-touch materials to the extent possible (e.g., assigning each student his or her own art supplies, equipment) or limit use of supplies and equipment by one group of children at a time and clean and disinfect between use.
Avoid sharing electronic devices, toys, books and other games or learning aids.
Ensure ventilation systems operate properly and increase circulation of outdoor air as much as possible, for example by opening windows and doors. Do not open windows and doors if doing so poses a safety or health risk (e.g., risk of falling, triggering asthma symptoms) to children using the facility.
To minimize the risk of Legionnaire’s disease and other diseases associated with water, take steps to ensure that all water systems and features (e.g., sink faucets, drinking fountains, decorative fountains) are safe to use after a prolonged facility shutdown. Drinking fountains should be cleaned and sanitized, but encourage staff and students to bring their own water to minimize use and touching of water fountains.
Space seating/desks at least 6 feet apart when feasible.
Turn desks to face in the same direction (rather than facing each other) or have students sit on only one side of tables, spaced apart.
Create distance between children on school buses (seat children one child per row, skip rows) when possible.
Physical barriers and guides
Install physical barriers, such as sneeze guards and partitions, particularly in areas where it is difficult for individuals to remain at least 6 feet apart (e.g., reception desks).
Provide physical guides, such as tape on floors or sidewalks and signs on walls, to ensure that staff and children remain at least 6 feet apart in lines and at other times (e.g. guides for creating “one way routes” in hallways).
Close communal use shared spaces such as dining halls and playgrounds with shared playground equipment if possible; otherwise, stagger use and clean and disinfect between use.
Add physical barriers, such as plastic flexible screens, between bathroom sinks especially when they cannot be at least 6 feet apart.
Have children bring their own meals as feasible, or serve individually plated meals in classrooms instead of in a communal dining hall or cafeteria, while ensuring the safety of children with food allergies.pdf icon
Use disposable food service items (e.g., utensils, dishes). If disposable items are not feasible or desirable, ensure that all non-disposable food service items are handled with gloves and washed with dish soap and hot water or in a dishwasher. Individuals should wash their hands after removing their gloves or after directly handling used food service items.
If food is offered at any event, have pre-packaged boxes or bags for each attendee instead of a buffet or family-style meal. Avoid sharing food and utensils and ensure the safety of children with food allergies.
Gatherings, visitors and field trips
Pursue virtual group events, gatherings, or meetings, if possible, and promote social distancing of at least 6 feet between people if events are held. Limit group size to the extent possible.
Limit any nonessential visitors, volunteers and activities involving external groups or organizations as possible — especially with individuals who are not from the local geographic area (e.g., community, town, city, county).
Pursue virtual activities and events in lieu of field trips, student assemblies, special performances, school-wide parent meetings and spirit nights, as possible.
Pursue options to convene sporting events and participation in sports activities in ways that minimizes the risk of transmission of COVID-19 to players, families, coaches and communities.
Identifying small groups and keeping them together
Ensure that student and staff groupings are as static as possible by having the same group of children stay with the same staff (all day for young children, and as much as possible for older children).
Limit mixing between groups if possible.
Stagger arrival and drop-off times or locations by cohort or put in place other protocols to limit contact between cohorts and direct contact with parents as much as possible.
When possible, use flexible worksites (e.g., telework) and flexible work hours (e.g., staggered shifts) to help establish policies and practices for social distancing (maintaining distance of approximately 6 feet) between employees and others, especially if social distancing is recommended by state and local health authorities.
Designated COVID-19 point of contact
Designate a staff person to be responsible for responding to COVID-19 concerns (e.g., school nurse). All school staff and families should know who this person is and how to contact them.
For the complete list of CDC guidelines, visit its website.