Recommendations for Schools this fall
Colorado is following CDC’s recommendations for schools. This guide is designed to help schools operationalize and clarify CDC’s recommendations.
Because many students have yet to be vaccinated and students under 12 are not yet eligible, we must continue to remain vigilant, take important mitigation steps that can reduce transmission of COVID-19, and address outbreaks in a safe and thoughtful manner. Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) will adopt and elaborate upon CDC school guidance, which was released on July 9, 2021. CDPHE is providing this practical guide for schools, parents, and students on how to operationalize CDC guidance in our education settings.
This guide to operationalizing CDC guidance is aimed at disease control and minimizing the risk of exposure in education settings. But, we know students’ wellness extends well beyond just disease control. Schools, educators, parents, and students must balance all of the needs of our students in order to achieve wellness and create a productive learning environment. With this in mind, the state has let all statewide school-based health orders and mandates expire and instead has adopted a guidance model designed to empower local public health and local leaders to protect their communities using the mitigation strategies most appropriate to local conditions. The guidance provides practical tools to assess the risks of COVID-19 and minimize those risks. The guidance does not constitute statewide requirements, but instead outlines evidence-based best practices for local governments and schools to implement together to manage the next stage of the pandemic.
The state continues to recommend a layered approach of best practices to COVID-19 prevention. This outline of best practices describes in detail in the Back to School Roadmap, including ventilation, maximization of outdoor activities, mask-wearing, testing, spacing, cohorting, symptom screening, cleaning and disinfecting, and handwashing. It also includes information for local public health agencies, schools, and parents about community transmission and layered precautions.
When schools have low vaccination rates (defined as a vaccination rate under 80% among staff and students age 12 and older) and their communities are experiencing high rates of community transmission (defined as 35 cases per 100,000 people over seven days), the local public health agency should work with schools and school districts to institute higher precautionary measures, such as:
- Universal masking (if not already implemented as recommended at all transmission levels).
- Increased physical distancing.
- Serial COVID-19 testing and screening programs.
- Contact tracing.
- Targeted quarantining.
- Limiting high risk activities.
In addition to communities facing higher risk factors, certain student groups may be at greater risk of COVID-19 due to the nature of their activities. Riskier activities include indoor sports, contact sports, and other activities involving forced exhalation such as band or orchestra. In these higher risk settings, local public health and school districts should consider precautionary measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as universal masking, serial testing and screening programs, contact tracing, targeted quarantining, vaccine outreach, and educational efforts. During the spring 2021 semester, outbreaks of COVID-19 often originated with these groups of students and then spread to the larger school community, disrupting learning.
Similar to adults, students with underlying health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, asthma, down syndrome, and heart disease are more likely to experience severe health impacts, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19. Students and staff with these underlying health conditions are strongly advised to get vaccinated. If they cannot get vaccinated, they should continue practicing a layered approach to prevent COVID-19.
Regardless of transmission and vaccination rates, all education settings should create the safest environment possible for their students through tried-and -true disease prevention measures. These include promoting hand washing, ensuring good ventilation, encouraging activities outside, social distancing, and asking sick students to stay home following CDPHE’s Return to Learn tool. In addition, CDC and CDPHE recommend universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. Universal masking is an especially critical strategy when a community is at higher risk of transmission, such as when vaccination rates are low and in schools where students are not yet eligible for vaccination. Schools should create an accepting environment for parents and students who choose to use masks even when they are not required.
Not only is COVID-19 vaccination Colorado’s best defense against the pandemic, vaccination also prevents disruptions to in-person learning. Fully vaccinated staff and students never have to miss school due to quarantine. The COVID-19 vaccines have been highly successful at reducing transmission, infections, and deaths. As we look towards the fall, CDPHE looks forward to partnering with schools and districts to host vaccination clinics and increase our defense against this virus. Vaccines are essential for students and caretakers alike. Children’s risk of contracting COVID-19 is greatly reduced when they live in a household where all eligible individuals are fully vaccinated, even if the children are not yet eligible for vaccination. Any school or school district interested in hosting a vaccination clinic can complete the online Vaccination Event Request Form. Throughout the school year, CDPHE will monitor disease transmission, severity, and vaccine effectiveness trends as well as community feedback. We will update our guidance and disease control strategies as the COVID-19 landscape changes with a continued focus on the essential nature of in-person learning.
Both local and state public health have statutory, legal and regulatory authority to investigate and control disease transmission, including isolation of cases and quarantine of close contacts, closing public places and prohibiting gathering to control the spread of disease. Statutory citations include but are not limited to 25-1.5-102(1), 25-1-506(3)(b)(V), 25-1-122(2), 25-1.5-101(1)(a),(h),(k) and (l), C.R.S.. Regulatory authority includes, 6 CCR 1009-1, 6 CCR 1010-6 and 6 CCR 1010-7.
- Can my child go to school today?
- What if I've tested postive?
- Who is a "Close Contact"?
- Positive Case in a School
- Youth Sports
Parents and guardians can use these symptom checklists to determine when to keep their child at home. School staff can also use this tool to determine if they need to stay at home. Any student or staff diagnosed with COVID-19 or who is a close contact of a COVID-19 case should not go to school and should isolate or quarantine according to public health recommendations regardless of current symptoms.
This symptom screen refers only to new symptoms or a change in usual symptoms . A student/staff should not be kept home for usual symptoms they experience due to a chronic condition unless they are worse than usual. These guidelines are in addition to your regular school guidance (for example, a child with vomiting should also not attend school based on usual school guidance). Please refer to the Return to Learn guidance to determine when it is appropriate to return to school.
If your child is/you are experiencing any potentially life-threatening symptoms please call 911.
If any of the following symptoms are present, keep the child at home/stay at home, inform the school of symptoms, and reach out to a health care provider about COVID-19 testing and next steps for treatment.
❏ Feeling feverish, having chills, or temperature 100.4°F or higher.
❏ New or unexplained persistent cough.
❏ Shortness of breath.
❏ Difficulty breathing.
❏ Loss of taste or smell.
❏ Muscle aches.
❏ Sore throat.
❏ Nausea or vomiting.
❏ Runny nose or congestion.
If a parent or sibling has tested positive, what should you do?
Sending your child/siblings to school when a parent/sibling tests positive puts the school in jeopardy of an outbreak or closure. Voluntarily quarantine is necessary to prevent placing your community at risk.
Isolation of positive cases
Ensuring sick people stay home (and people diagnosed with COVID-19 follow isolation requirements) is critical to preventing the spread of COVID-19. Under state law, isolation of positive cases is required and must be enforced by local public health and school districts.
Monitoring and communication
While fully vaccinated individuals are not required to quarantine if they are exposed to someone with COVID-19, all individuals who are exposed should monitor themselves for symptoms for 14 days and get tested if symptoms develop.
What happens when there's a positive COVID-19 case in my child's classroom or school?
Quarantine guidance recommendations can be found here.
Anyone who is fully vaccinated (at least two weeks after their last dose of COVID-19 vaccine), even in a low vaccination, high case setting, is not required to quarantine if exposed to a case. In the school setting, fully vaccinated individuals who are exposed to COVID-19 during a higher risk exposure should monitor for symptoms and seek testing if symptoms develop.
School-Level Vaccination Rate
If at least 80% of individuals age 12 and older within a school community have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, no one, including unvaccinated individuals, needs to quarantine following a typical classroom exposure to a case.
Weekly Serial Testing
Schools can also implement weekly serial testing in their schools. Additionally, students of all ages who are actively participating in at least weekly serial testing should not be required to quarantine following typical classroom exposures to a positive case of COVID-19. School districts may opt into a free and voluntary statewide serial testing program. If a school or school district is interested in enrolling in this program, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
If schools have at least 70% of their unvaccinated students and staff actively participating in serial testing, students and staff should not be required to quarantine following a typical classroom exposure to a case of COVID-19.
CDPHE recommends that unvaccinated students not be required to quarantine following a typical classroom exposure if both the infected individual and the exposed student(s) were wearing well-fitting masks correctly and consistently over the mouth and nose during the exposure.
In classroom settings, CDPHE recommends quarantine for unvaccinated close contacts that were within six feet for 15 minutes or more of an infected individual if either the infected individual or the contact were unmasked during the exposure. Note that this guidance differs slightly from current CDC guidance. CDC’s definition of a close contact and need for quarantine in a typical classroom only excludes students who were within three to six feet of an infected individual if both parties were wearing masks. CDPHE does not specify a minimum of three feet when excluding exposed students from quarantine, if both the infected individual and the exposed student(s) were wearing masks and no direct physical contact occurred. CDPHE’s “Who Needs to Quarantine?” tool is updated to provide additional clarification.
Higher risk exposures
Several close contact situations would be considered higher risk exposures to COVID-19. The state recommends local public health take a heightened risk approach to these higher risk exposures, which should include quarantine of unvaccinated, exposed individuals. These exposures are significantly higher risk than typical activities within a classroom. Examples include:
Indoor or high contact athletic competitions.
Evaluating or assessing ill students or staff.
Performing an aerosol-generating procedure.
Caring for a young child (feeding, holding, or diapering).
Interactions between young children where it is not age appropriate to remain seated or physically distanced.
Indoor forced exhalation activities such as singing, exercising, or playing a wind or brass instrument.
This is not an exhaustive list, and public health authorities can assist with determining whether or not quarantine is necessary after a particular exposure. Schools should discuss these more complex cases with their local public health agency.
Staff and students who are exposed to a case of COVID-19 outside of the school classroom, including social settings, athletics, workplaces, and household exposures, will likely be required to quarantine, pursuant to statutory and regulatory public health authority. Students participating in high-risk activities (such as unmasked indoor athletic competitions) and individuals who are at higher risk for severe infection will be strongly encouraged to get vaccinated for their own protection.
Individuals at higher risk for severe disease
Individuals should discuss their personal risk factors with their health care providers. Individuals determined to be at higher risk for severe disease should get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible in consultation with their health care provider. If these individuals are not eligible for vaccination, or vaccination is not medically advised, serial testing and masking indoors is strongly recommended. Schools may consider universal masking requirements, ventilation improvements, and other protective measures when they serve or employ large numbers of high-risk or vulnerable individuals.
Positive cases and outbreaks
As described above, all positive cases will be required to isolate and stay home to protect others, pursuant to statutory and regulatory public health authority. Once a school has an outbreak that impacts multiple classrooms, school leadership should work with their local public health authority to determine what additional mitigation strategies may be necessary. Additional mitigation strategies may include: universal masking indoors, distancing, testing and contact tracing, and quarantine of close contacts.
Caveat: Variants of Concern circulating in communities could impact population-based strategies.
Youth sports guidance follows the school (s) or community recreation league COVID-19 prevention plans.