Schools-FAQ K-12 Schools Guidance 2021-2022 Questions & Answers

K-12 Schools Guidance 2021-2022 Questions & Answers

Updates as of March 12, 2022:

  • Q&As regarding group tracing were added.

  • Q&As regarding masking requirements and quarantine recommendations were archived.

  • Due to these changes, Q&As were renumbered.

Table of Contents

Vaccination

1. What are the benefits to getting vaccinated for students in school?

COVID 19-vaccines are effective. They decrease the chances of getting and spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.  COVID-19 vaccines help keep you from getting seriously ill even if you do get COVID-19.  Getting vaccinated yourself may also protect people around you, particularly people at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

2. How should school staff determine whether a student's symptoms are due to being infected or recently vaccinated against COVID-19?

More than two million teenagers have been immunized against COVID-19 in California as of 2022, including hundreds of thousands since schools reopened this fall.  Based on data from clinical trials, post-vaccination side effects in younger children are anticipated to be similar or milder than in adolescents or young adults who received the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.  Current school-based practices for assessing post-vaccination symptoms in adolescents can be applied to this younger population.

Most post-vaccination symptoms occur within the first 3 days of vaccination (the day of vaccination and the following 2 days, with most occurring the day after vaccination).  Testing may help determine whether symptoms should be attributed to COVID-19 infection that could occur prior to the body's ability to develop immunity from the vaccine, which typically takes about two weeks after the vaccination.  Vaccination does not cause positive antigen and PCR test results for COVID-19. 

Additionally, many of CDC's post-vaccine considerations for workplaces apply to K-12 schools, including information about signs and symptoms not caused by COVID-19 vaccination (e.g., cough, shortness of breath, runny nose, sore throat, loss of taste or smell).  Suggested approaches for assessing and responding to post-vaccination symptoms are also provided.

Masking

Please note that prior FAQs related to the universal indoor masking requirement in K-12 school settings have been archived and can be accessed here.  For more information regarding CDPH's strong recommendation that all persons (e.g., students and staff) wear masks in K-12 indoor settings, please see the Preamble of the K-12 Guidance.  Please also see local considerations for maintaining or establishing universal indoor mask requirements in K-12 schools.

3.  What are the implications of recent changes to CDC & CDPH masking guidance for transportation on school buses serving K-12 populations?

School buses serving K-12 populations are considered a school setting and are subject to K-12 Guidance.  When practicable and safe, CDPH recommends optimizing air quality by opening windows to create more ventilation.

4. If students take a school trip off-campus to an indoor location, should masks be worn?

CDPH's general face coverings guidance includes a strong recommendation that all individuals wear masks indoors.  If students are participating in a school event or being supervised by school staff, the strong recommendation in the K-12 guidance also applies regardless of location.

Managing instances where students have been exposed to COVID-19

5. Why is California strongly recommending the notification-based approach of Group Tracing rather than quarantine-based approaches for students exposed to COVID-19?

The shorter incubation period, airborne nature of SARS-CoV-2 virus transmission, and increased transmissibility of variants currently circulating in California suggest an alternative approach to contact tracing is warranted.  The framework outlined in the Group Tracing Approach allows for a quicker and broader response to cases identified in school settings, accomplishable through prompt notification, testing, and isolation protocols. 

This is possible in California's schools because the multi-layered approach to COVID-19 mitigation has effectively curbed in-school transmission to-date.  These other layers – such as receiving COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters, wearing high-quality well-fitting masks, staying home and testing if symptomatic, and improving indoor air quality – remain effective and important in school-based mitigation efforts.

Notably, CDPH and CDC no longer recommend universal case investigation and contact tracing in schools.  Instead, CDC recommends implementation of "appropriate COVID-19 prevention measures [and] broad-based efforts to notify people of a potential exposure."  This is akin to California's Group Tracing Approach. 

As noted in the K-12 Guidance, the modified quarantine recommendation was developed in the context of (1) a universal masking requirement in schools and (2) circulating variants of SARS-CoV-2 with longer incubation periods and less transmissibility than that which is currently predominant in California.  If K-12 schools maintain protocols using quarantine strategies outlined in Sections 7-9 of the Guidance, due consideration of these factors is advised.

Please note that prior FAQs about modified quarantine recommendations in K-12 school settings have been archived and can be accessed here.

6. If using the Group-Tracing Approach, what should students notified of an exposure be told?

Schools should notify students who spent more than a cumulative total of 15 minutes (within a 24-hour time period) in a shared indoor airspace (e.g., classroom) with someone with COVID-19 during their period of infectiousness

Notification should occur to "groups" of exposed students (e.g., classmates, teammates, cohorts, etc.) rather than contact tracing to identify individual "close contacts" (e.g., those within 6 feet).

Notifications should be provided to all individuals considered exposed, including those who are vaccinated and/or recently infected. 

For example, if a student in tenth grade is diagnosed with COVID-19, the school should notify groups with whom that student interacted as per the criteria above, such as those in the same classes, sports team, and/or other extracurricular cohorts.

Notifications should highlight that the student may remain in school but should get tested.  Scientific research and experience from around the country – including from California during this school year – demonstrate that schools remain among the safest places for children to be.  Information regarding where and how to access testing resources should be included, along with isolation instructions in case the exposed individual tests positive or develops symptoms.  Important mitigation practices (including masking) should be reiterated.  

A sample notification letter may be downloaded and customized by schools to facilitate communication to exposed students.

7. Which K-12 settings should be the focus for school-based contact tracing efforts?

The initial months of the 2021-2022 school year have demonstrated that in-school transmission of COVID-19 is uncommon when multiple safety layers are implemented effectively.  When transmission does occur in schools, it predominantly takes place during prolonged indoor exposures.  

Accordingly, CDPH recommends a targeted approach to school-based contact tracing, specifically focusing on indoor environments where individuals spend significant amounts of time (e.g., classrooms, cafeterias, and school buses).  Exposure notifications should also be pursued among participants in sport programs (indoors and outdoors), particularly those with any component of potential close contact indoors (e.g., weight training, locker room use, team gatherings, and shared transportation).  

Using classroom and team rosters may expedite and be an acceptable determination of exposed individuals in many of these settings.  

This guidance provides a framework to focus on high-value strategies to protect students and staff given the infrequency of in-school transmission of COVID-19 and the experiences of California schools thus far.  Stricter guidance may be issued by local public health officials or other authorities.

Testing

8. What type of test may be used to assess a person's status after being exposed to someone with COVID-19?

Any FDA-authorized antigen diagnostic test, PCR diagnostic test, or pooled PCR test is acceptable for evaluation of an individual's COVID-19 status after being exposed to someone with COVID-19.  For individuals who have been recently infected (within the past 90 days), antigen testing is strongly recommended as PCR results may remain persistently positive and not be indicative of a new active infection. 

Repeat antigen testing and/or confirmatory molecular testing should be considered in individuals who receive a negative result with an antigen test but have symptoms specific for COVID-19 (such as loss of taste and smell).  For more information, see the CDPH updated testing guidance

9.  Is at-home testing permitted?

At-home testing, also known as over-the-counter (OTC) testing, is permitted to evaluate the status of a student who is in isolation, quarantine, or received a notification of exposure.  Schools are encouraged to provide resources to parents and families regarding the best practices for using and reporting at-home tests.  Contact CDPH for support as needed.  Schools are not required to verify the results of at-home testing but may consider verification methods listed in the OTC guidance

10. How should schools manage testing resources?

For the remainder of the 2021-2022 school year, CDPH continues to recommend that schools facilitate access to testing, particularly for vulnerable populations within their communities.  Tracking results from all exposed students is not required.  Parents should notify schools of positive results.  Schools that do not have access to sufficient testing supports are strongly encouraged to promptly contact local health departments and/or CDPH for additional guidance.  More information regarding future testing strategies is forthcoming.

School-Based Extra Curricular Activities

11. Are there additional recommendations to protect against transmission of COVID-19 during sports in K-12 settings?

Sports-related transmission of COVID-19 often occurs off the field of play.  This includes during weight-training, team meetings, and while commuting with teammates to and from activities.  Students are currently strongly recommended to wear masks indoors in school settings and on school-based transportation.  This includes weight rooms, locker rooms, and school buses, even if the sport itself is played outdoors.

Additional recommendations to mitigate sports-related transmission of COVID-19 include the following: vaccinate all eligible student athletes, coaches, and parent/adult volunteers; consider screening testing programs; hold team meetings outdoors; minimize team meals and other activities not related to practice or play; wear masks during shared transportation (i.e., carpooling to and from activities); avoid sharing water bottles; and train in pods (e.g., separate teams into varsity/junior varsity, offense/defense, different track & field events, etc.).  Note that local health jurisdictions may have additional rules and requirements. Additional recommendations are provided by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

12. What if I must temporarily lower my mask for any reason?

Lowering a mask (i.e., such that it does not fully cover the wearer's nose and mouth) for any reason increases risk of infection and potentially exposes other persons to COVID-19. If it is be done, it should be done for brief periods of time, away from other people, and preferably outdoors if possible.

13. What should I do if my mask feels wet or gets saturated with sweat?

Any face mask that feels wet or becomes saturated with sweat should be changed immediately.

14. Does the K-12 Guidance on School-Based Extracurricular Activities apply to non-school activities?   

For sports and recreation activities that are not operated or supervised by schools, or do not occur on a school site, the following continue to apply:

Additional Questions

15. What should be done to protect our school community from COVID-19 when outdoor air quality is poor, such as during wildfires?

During periods of inclement weather, it may be challenging to implement certain ventilation strategies to protect against COVID-19.  In these situations, schools are encouraged to work closely with their local health jurisdictions to determine best practices.  Factors involved in decision-making may include access to alternate ventilation strategies such portable air cleaners and HVAC systems, face coverings with higher filtration (i.e., N95 or KN95 respirators), and alternative educational spaces.  Local epidemiologic factors (i.e., vaccination coverage status, community case rates) should also be considered.  Read more CDPH information about ventilation in schools (PDF). Find more information about wildfire smoke considerations in schools here (PDF, Page 43).  Additional state resources are available through the California Air Resources Board (CARB), Airnow, and the California Department of Education.

16. Under what circumstances should temporary school closure be considered due to excessive COVID-19 cases?  

California is unequivocally committed to preserving the safety and success of in-person instruction at K-12 schools.  A temporary school closure due to COVID-19 should be a last resort and considered only after all available resources have been exhausted in an attempt to preserve in-person education.  In such a circumstance, continuity of instruction for students will be critical. For information regarding provision of independent study, visit the CDE website

Temporary school closures should be considered only after conferring with local health officials.  There is no specific case threshold at which the State recommends an immediate temporary closure of a classroom or school. Instead, the process should be guided by local epidemiology, with particular attention paid to concern for in-school transmission.  Operational factors may also be considered, including the ability to maintain sufficient teaching staff to provide in-person instruction.  

Note that infections diagnosed in students and school staff are not necessarily the result of exposure at school, and COVID-19 transmission remains much more likely to occur among people living in the same household or participating in other non-school activities.  Testing is strongly encouraged to assess the extent of cases among students and school staff.  Local health officers are encouraged to contact the State should the need for testing resources exceed local supply, and for additional consultation to support decision-making processes.

17. Can K-12 schools host dances and large assemblies?

School dances, large assemblies, and other school-based crowded events have the potential to cause substantial spread of COVID-19 within and beyond the school community.  Schools are encouraged to consult with local health officials before deciding to host such events, particularly in communities where COVID-19 remains highly prevalent and/or vaccination rates remain low.  The following are additional considerations to optimize health and safety for all attendees:

  • Host such events outdoors whenever possible.
  • Separate the event into smaller cohorts (by grade, for example) whenever possible.
  • Ensure all eligible attendees (students and adults) are vaccinated.  Conduct pre-entry testing for all unvaccinated attendees at or just prior to the event.
  • Plan in advance how to identify close contacts or exposed groups if it is later discovered that someone with COVID-19 attended the event.  Consider requiring pre-registration with CA Notify and maintaining a log of all attendees (even those arriving pre-event) at the door/entrance to the event.
  • Consider requiring the use of masks at school-based large, crowded events.
  • If food or drinks are to be served, serve them outdoors whenever possible and/or place them away from other areas to clearly designate spaces where masks should be worn.


18. What should be done tprotect our school community from COVID-19 when outdoor air quality is poor, such as during wildfires?

During periods of inclement weather, it may be challenging to implement certain ventilation strategies to protect against COVID-19.  In these situations, schools are encouraged to work closely with their local health jurisdictions to determine best practices.  Factors involved in decision-making may include access to alternate ventilation strategies such portable air cleaners and HVAC systems, face coverings with higher filtration (i.e., N95 or KN95 respirators), and alternative educational spaces.  Local epidemiologic factors (i.e., vaccination coverage status, community case rates) should also be considered.  More CDPH information about ventilation in schools is available here; more information about wildfire smoke considerations in schools is available here (Page 43).  Additional state resources are available through the California Air Resources Board (CARB), Airnow, and the California Department of Education.

19. Under what circumstances should temporary school closure be considered due to excessive COVID-19 cases?  

California is unequivocally committed to preserving the safety and success of in-person instruction at K-12 schools.  A temporary school closure due to COVID-19 should be a last resort and considered only after all available resources have been exhausted in an attempt to preserve in-person education.  In such a circumstance, continuity of instruction for students will be critical. For information regarding provision of independent study, visit https://www.cde.ca.gov/eo/in/independentstudy202122.asp.    

Temporary school closures should be considered only after conferring with local health officials.  There is no specific case threshold at which the State recommends an immediate temporary closure of a classroom or school. Instead, the process should be guided by local epidemiology, with particular attention paid to concern for in-school transmission.  Operational factors may also be considered, including the ability to maintain sufficient teaching staff to provide in-person instruction.  

Note that infections diagnosed in students and school staff are not necessarily the result of exposure at school, and COVID-19 transmission remains much more likely to occur among people living in the same household or participating in other non-school activities.  Testing is strongly encouraged to assess the extent of cases among students and school staff.  Local health officers are encouraged to contact the State should the need for testing resources exceed local supply, and for additional consultation to support decision-making processes.








​Originally published 7/29/2021