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Resources & management of COVID-19 in schools & early childhood settings

The following refers to management of COVID-19 cases in schools and early childcare settings. For additional questions, please contact the PDPH Pediatric Partnerships team at or (215) 685-5488 or at (215) 686-4514 outside of business hours.

This content was last updated on September 13, 2023.

Key points


Suspected outbreak: Schools and childcare centers should report to the Health Department if additional support is needed to manage a suspected outbreak.

  • A suspected COVID-19 outbreak is defined as:
    • In <17 person classroom/defined group, 3 positive cases.
    • In 18-49 person classroom/defined group, 5 positive cases.
    • In >50 person classroom/defined group, 10 positive cases.

Unusual burden: Notifications should also occur if there is an unusual burden of disease in the facility with respect to COVID-19 cases–for example, inadequate staffing or school closure.

  • Immediately report individual cases of COVID-19 to the Health Department only if:
    • A student or staff death occurs.
    • A student or staff member has an ICU hospitalization.
    • A student experiences multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C).

If a school or childcare center receives a positive COVID-19 case or a person with COVID-19 symptoms, follow these steps:

  1. Isolate the case.
  2. Identify and notify the affected cohort.
  3. Report suspected clusters to the Health Department.

Learn more about reporting.


If a staff member or student has a known exposure, they must wear a high quality, well-fitting mask (e.g. KN95) for 10 days. Testing is recommended three times (every other day) starting on day 2.

Download our isolation and exposure calendar by visiting Resources for schools and early childhood education (scroll to “Supplemental Guidance”).

Learn more about exposure.


Students and staff who have tested positive must isolate at home and be excluded from school or childcare center for a minimum of 5 days.

  • Upon return, the case should mask for an additional 5 days. If the positive case cannot mask, they should stay home for this additional 5-day period.
  • The case should only end isolation if fever-free(without fever-reducing medication) and symptoms are improving.

Learn more about isolation.

Layered mitigation strategies for respiratory illness season

This guidance emphasizes layered preventative measures to slow the spread of respiratory viruses such as COVID-19, influenza (flu), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and the common cold. The Health Department’s goal is to support safe and healthy learning environments for all.

We have lived with COVID-19 for several years now. Some infection control measures which have proven to work are:

  • Optimization of indoor air quality.
  • Respiratory etiquette and handwashing.
  • Exclusion of those who are sick as necessary.

Learn more about layered mitigation strategies.

Expanded guidance

Reporting suspected outbreaks

Outbreaks of individuals with symptom onset within 7 days of each other must be reported to the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. You can report COVID-19 cases to the Health Department by completing a REDCap pediatric survey.

If your school is not receiving daily REDCap surveys, please call (215) 685-5488 or email for further guidance.

A “defined group” may be a sports team, an extracurricular activity cohort such as band, a grade, a class, or any other group of staff or students that regularly meets.

Examples of suspected outbreaks:

  • In <17 person classroom/defined group, 3 positive cases.
  • In 18-49 person classroom/defined group, 5 positive cases.
  • In >50 person classroom/defined group, 10 positive cases

In order to complete the reporting form, you will need the following information about the classroom(s) impacted:

  • Total number of classrooms/cohorts that have cases.
  • Total number of students and staff that have tested positive within each group being reported.
  • Total number of students and staff that are in the defined group.
  • The first positive individual in each classroom/cohort’s reported or observed symptom onset date
  • The last positive individual in the classroom/cohort’s last date spent in school or child care center
  • The positive individuals’ test dates.

The Health Department will follow up to ensure that appropriate infection control measures have been put into place and that outbreak is under control.

Exposure and isolation guidelines


Children 2 and older: Exposed children and staff must mask for 10 days following that exposure, with the day of exposure being day 0. Self-monitoring (or monitoring by a parent) for symptoms for 10 full days following last exposure helps identify those who can spread illness. Testing on day 2, 4, and 6 via rapid antigen test is recommended. For children who cannot functionally mask, serial testing is strongly recommended in order to prevent further transmission in the school.

Children under 2: Young children may remain in the childcare setting for their exposure period but should be monitored for symptoms for 10 days and tested via PCR on day 5, or sooner if symptoms develop. More frequent testing as described above can help prevent further transmission in schools. Discuss options for more frequent testing with your child’s healthcare provider.

All exposures: If you test positive, isolate immediately.

Download our isolation and exposure calendar by visiting Resources for schools and early childhood education (scroll to “Supplemental Guidance”).

Read CDC’s full isolation guidance.

Encourage staff and parents to talk to their own and their children’s physicians about their individual risk factors for COVID-19 and the risks of working at or attending school. We strongly recommend flexibility and accommodations for staff who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, such as those 65 years and older and those with weakened immune systems.


Clear guidance should be provided to parents and staff about reporting COVID-19 results or diagnosis to the school or child care center as soon as possible.

An individual with COVID-19 symptoms should test as soon as possible. People who are at risk for getting very sick with COVID-19 who test positive should consult with a healthcare provider right away for possible treatment, even if their symptoms are mild.

Staff and students diagnosed with COVID-19 must isolate (stay home) for 5 days and then can return to school or center, but must wear a high quality (N95, KN95, or KF94) mask consistently during days 6-10 and should eat in a designated area separate from others.

Students who cannot mask (e.g. children under the age of 2), must stay home for the entire 10 day period following a positive test or onset of symptoms.

Layered mitigation strategies for respiratory illness season

Staying home when sick

Individuals who are sick should stay home when they are not feeling well to avoid spreading germs that could impact others. If a fever is present, stay home for at least 24 hours until the fever has resolved without the use of fever-reducing medications (acetaminophen, ibuprofen).

Optimizing Indoor Air Quality (Ventilation)

Schools and ECEs should take advantage of all ventilation strategies available to them especially during respiratory virus season, when COVID-19 transmission in the community is high, or there is an outbreak in the school. This includes the Pediatric Partnerships Team’s HEPA filter program (PDF), which provides Medify air purifiers free to early childhood settings and schools, including a multi-year supply of filters. Air purifiers with HEPA filters are recommended by the CDC to increase safety in the classroom. Find out more about the HEPA filter program (PDF).

Open windows and/or doors on opposite sides of the room using fans to blow outside air through the room also increases ventilation. Optimize ventilation provided by the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. The CDC recommends providing five air changes per hour, if possible.


Masks and respirators, such as an N95 or KN95, help to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses. For those who wear a single mask, a respirator (Kn95, KF94, N95) provides the best protection, followed by a surgical mask, and finally a cloth mask. Double masking with a cloth mask over a surgical mask is more protective than a single cloth or surgical mask alone. Masks should fit well over mouth and nose.

Universal masking in all indoor public settings including schools and early childhood education settings is recommended at a medium or high hospital admission levels. Upon return from an extended break/holiday or after a gathering such as a prom or other indoor event, universal masking for a two-week period is recommended regardless of community transmission level. The Health Department may determine that masking is necessary for schools for these reasons or others which will be communicated at that time.

Individuals may choose to wear a mask at any time as an additional precaution to protect themselves and others. Anyone at high risk for severe illness should consider wearing a mask indoors in public and taking additional precautions.

Did you know? Surgical masks or respirators (KN95, KF94, or, for older children N95) can be made available to schools and early childhood education settings. Reach out to us for more information: (215) 685-5488.


This 2023-24 school year, the Health Department will be providing rapid at-home COVID-19 test kits, point-of-care test kits, masks, and other resources for the K-12 school and early childhood education center communities, including staff and families. To request test kits and supplies for your school, email

Pick up free rapid antigen at-home test kits at these Health Department resource hubs:

  • Bethany Baptist Church, 5747 Warrington Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19143
  • Mi Salud Wellness Center, 200 E. Wyoming Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19120
  • Mt. Enon Baptist Church, 500 Snyder Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19148
  • Shoppes at La Salle, 5301 Chew Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19138
  • Whitman Plaza, 330 W. Oregon Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19148

The resource hubs are open Monday through Friday. You don’t need to make an appointment, but daily schedules vary. Visit our testing calendar for hours of operation and other details.

When hospital admission levels are medium or high, consider implementing COVID-19 screening testing in schools and ECE programs for high-risk activities such as close contact sports, band, choir, and theater.

Hygiene and cleaning

Training and reinforcing proper handwashing techniques will help curb the spread of transmissible diseases in the classroom. Handwashing is especially important before preparing food or eating, after eating or using the restroom, and when entering the classroom.

Schools and ECE programs should teach and reinforce covering coughs and sneezes to the spread of infectious respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.


Vaccination remains the best strategy to limit disease burden, spreading of vaccine-preventable illnesses, and related disruptions in learning. It is important for children to receive all recommended childhood vaccines when eligible.

A routine COVID-19 vaccination regimen is recommended for all children aged 6 months of age and older as it shown to significantly reduce the risk of hospitalization and death. Catch-up vaccination should be recommended for any student who has not received a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine previously. Number of doses is dependent on product given and age.

Anyone who is eligible should be vaccinated with all recommended COVID-19 vaccine doses. There are many opportunities for free vaccination in Philadelphia.

As the COVID-19 pandemic in Philadelphia evolves, there may be additional changes to the guidance, so please connect to the COVID-19 texts (text COVIDPHL to 888-777) to have the most up-to-date information.

Text COVIDPHL to 888-777 to receive updates to your phone.

Contact the Health Department at (215) 685-5488 or at (215) 686-4514 outside of business hours. For medical advice, call your healthcare provider.