COVID-19: Learn how to stay safe, get vaccinated, and find testing. Visit phila.gov/covid.

COVID-19

Schools guidance (K-12)

The following is intended as a plain-language summary of rules during the COVID-19 emergency and does not replace the need to follow all applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations.

See early childhood education (ECE) guidance.


This content was last updated on April 29, 2022.

If 5% or more of your school’s population is positive for COVID-19, the Health Department strongly urges enforcing 10 full days of required masking for the entire school population.
In order to help reduce transmission and keep Philadelphia at a low COVID-19 risk level, the Health Department strongly recommends masking in all indoor public settings, including schools and early childhood education settings.  This includes sporting events, presentations, graduations, proms, performances, and recitals. For specifics on masking and other COVID-19 precautions in these settings, see the Extracurricular Activities section below.

Summary

In-person learning is essential for Philadelphia children to continue to learn, thrive and connect with their peers and surroundings. Schools should provide in-person instruction and learning for all ages. Keeping students and staff safe and happy during COVID-19 is the utmost priority.

Although universal case investigation and contact tracing are no longer recommended by the CDC, continued ventilation, handwashing, and having people who are sick isolate at home remain important to prevent transmission. The Health Department will continue to provide support in the case of outbreaks in K-12 and childcare settings.

Vaccination, including booster shots, remains the number one way to protect students and staff and reduce interruptions in learning. Anyone who is eligible should be vaccinated and receive all recommended doses. There are many opportunities for vaccination in Philadelphia.

In order to best meet our community’s diverse needs, the Health Department has developed two sets of isolation and quarantine guidance. Schools that meet the mitigation criteria may opt-in to follow shortened 5-day quarantine and isolation recommendations. Schools that do not yet meet the mitigation criteria should follow isolation and quarantine recommendations below.

The following set of baseline or minimum recommendations based on guidelines from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Pennsylvania Department of Education still apply as best practices within the school setting for mitigating the risk of COVID-19 for students and staff.

The detailed guidance is categorized by the following key practices:

  • Encouraging the wider school community to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
  • Enhancing ventilation.
  • Hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette.
  • Cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities.
  • Contact tracing in limited situations in combination with isolation and quarantine.
  • Strongly encouraging universal and correct use of face masks for all staff and students > 2 years of age when indoors except in specific situations outlined below.

Quarantine and quarantine alternatives

There are a variety of appropriate actions that may be considered in schools. Schools may choose the strategy that is best for them and reflects the needs of the school as well as the resources available. Schools will be responsible for implementing these strategies with Health Department assistance as requested.

Options:

  • Mask to stay: If your school chooses a mask to stay option, that means that people who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 can stay in school but need to stay masked while they are in school. There are two ways to implement this:
    1. All close contacts of a case would mask to stay in school, ideally with rapid or molecular testing* within 48 hours and again on or after day 5. Masking should be maintained for 10 days after exposure or 7 days with a negative test on or after day 5. OR
    2. All members of the exposed cohort (class, grade, team, etc.) would mask to stay in school, ideally with rapid or molecular testing* within 48 hours and again on or after day 5. Masking should be maintained for 10 days after exposure or 7 days with a negative test on or after day 5.
  • Test to stay: If your school chooses a test to stay option, individuals (see recommended groups below) will participate in regular testing after exposure. There are two ways to implement this:
    1. All close contacts would test to stay (requires contact tracing). Masks should be worn for the 7 days after exposure. OR
    2. All members of the exposed cohort (class, grade, team, etc.) would test to stay. Masks should be worn for the 7 days after exposure.
  • Quarantine: If your school chooses quarantine, individuals in the following groups must quarantine for 10 days (requires contact tracing). Quarantine may be shortened to 7 days with a negative test on or after day 5. Schools that have implemented enhanced mitigation measures may shorten quarantine. Children less than 2 years old and anyone who cannot mask must quarantine. Any individual who has been exposed and is in one of the groups below must mask:
    • All individuals aged 2-11 regardless of vaccination status.
    • Individuals aged 12-17 who have NOT completed a two dose primary vaccination series.
    • Individuals aged 18 or older who are NOT up to date on vaccinations.

* Testing is not required but recommended. 

All close contacts should mask after an exposure, regardless of vaccination status.

Close contacts are defined as those individuals that have been within 6 feet for 15 minutes within a 24-hour period, masked or unmasked.

Close contacts with confirmed COVID-19 within the last 90 days (tested positive using a viral test) do not need to quarantine but must mask.

All close contacts must monitor themselves for fever and cough, shortness of breath and other COVID-19 symptoms for 10 days after their last exposure to someone with COVID-19.  Symptomatic students who test negative must mask until resolution of symptoms regardless of vaccination status.

School Exposure Option  Masking  Testing  Recommended groups
1) Mask to Stay  10 days (no test)                      OR                                              7 days

(test on day 5)

Within 48 hours

and on or after day 5 (Recommended but not required)

All 2+ unless unable to mask
2) Test to Stay  7 days Every other day for 7 days All 2-11, regardless of vaccination status

12-17 who have not completed a two dose primary series

18+ not up to date

3) Quarantine for *10 days  n/a Recommended on or after day 5 Unable to mask (including all <2 years)

*Quarantine may be shortened to 5-days if all mitigation measures are met.

  • Schools may choose to use this testing method in certain circumstances, for example if a classroom has students who cannot mask, those students cannot participate in mask to stay or test to stay. Students in the classroom who can mask can participate. Test to stay and mask to stay can be applied to individuals, classes or cohorts.
  • In order to help facilitate test to stay, rapid testing can be offered on site or at home.
  • Families should be given the opportunity to allow their child to complete quarantine at home.

Cleaning and respiratory etiquette

Set up hand hygiene stations at the entrance of the facility and the classroom, so that students and staff can clean their hands before they enter. If a sink with soap and water is not available, provide hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol at entrance. Hand hygiene should be practiced at the following times:

  • Before and after eating or breaks.
  • After using the toilet.
  • After individuals cough, sneeze, or blow their nose.
  • After playing outdoors.
  • Before and after group activities.
  • Staff: Hand hygiene should also be practiced before and after preparing food and drinks and before and after any medication administration.

Maintaining healthy facilities

Although transmission from a contaminated environment is an uncommon mode of transmission, sites should continue to maintain a cleaning schedule. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces within the school and school buses regularly. This includes tables, desktops, chairs, doorknobs/handles, light switches, remote controls, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks. The CDC has steps for cleaning and disinfecting. Facilities should use cleaning products that are EPA-approved for use against COVID-19. Store all cleaning products securely and out of the reach of children.

Optimizing ventilation when possible

If possible, increase ventilation in the building by either:

  • Opening windows and/or doors on opposite sides of the room and consider using fans to blow outside air through the room; OR
  • Optimizing ventilation provided by the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system by:
    • Having the HVAC system checked to assure that it is working properly. If it can be adjusted, the system should be set to provide at least 6 air exchanges per hour if possible or the maximum possible setting.
    • Maximizing the amount of outside air circulated by the system.
    • Installing filters with minimum efficiency reporting values (MERV) of 13, or the highest compatible with the filter rack.
    • Checking that the external air inlet duct is not blocked and that it is at least 15 feet from persons.

School transportation (buses, vans, taxis, etc.)

On private or public school busses, masks are strongly encouraged. This includes early care and education/childcare programs.

  • Whenever possible, the following mitigation strategies are also strongly encouraged:
    • Encourage regular hand hygiene upon entering and exiting the vehicle.
    • Provide hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol at the entry of the vehicle.
    • Open windows in buses and other school vehicles, if doing so does not pose a safety risk. According to the CDC, “even cracking windows open a few inches improves air circulation.” If the vehicle has air conditioning, do not use the “recirculate” mode.

Face mask use

Face masks help to prevent the transmission of COVID-19.
Learn more about why, when, and how to wear a mask (PDF).

  • Masking is strongly encouraged.
  • Masking is required after an exposure.
  • Double masking with a cloth mask over a surgical mask or, if preferred, a well-fitted KN95, KF94, or N95 mask is more protective than a single cloth or surgical mask. For those who wear a single mask, a surgical mask is preferred instead of a cloth mask alone.
  • If feasible, surgical masks or respirators (KN95, KF94, or, for older children N95) could be made available to those who want to wear them in schools.

Additional COVID-19 prevention in schools

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.

Screening testing

Schools may consider screening testing. CDC currently recommends that screening testing should be offered to students who are not up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines when community transmission is at moderate, substantial, or high levels; and screening testing should be offered to all teachers and staff who are not up to date on their vaccinations at any level of community transmission.  Some schools may choose to offer screening testing to athletes and musicians who play woodwind and brass instruments due to the possible elevated risk of transmission in these settings.

The CDC continues to support implementation of COVID-19 testing programs in schools and supports and encourages program participation among parents and staff regardless of community transmission level or vaccination status.  This is the best way to stop outbreaks is before they start.

Student and staff screening

Parents should screen their children for symptoms daily, including screening for fever, symptoms, and exposure. Staff should screen themselves daily. Check the full list of symptoms from the CDC.

The Health Department has developed a COVID-19 sample screening tool. If an individual has symptoms consistent with COVID-19, they should not enter the facility.

Extracurricular activities

Screening Testing

  • Screening testing should be considered for students who play indoor sports in the following groups:
    • All individuals aged 2-11 regardless of vaccination status.
    • Individuals aged 12-17 who have NOT completed a two dose primary vaccination series.
    • Individuals aged 18 or older who are NOT up to date on vaccinations.
  • If screening testing is conducted, consider rapid testing 2 times per week or before each practice, class and performance.

Masking

  • The Health Department strongly recommends that athletes in any of the following groups mask during play regardless of screening testing protocol:
    • All individuals aged 2-11 regardless of vaccination status.
    • Individuals aged 12-17 who have NOT completed a two dose primary vaccination series.
    • Individuals aged 18 or older who are NOT up to date on vaccinations.
  • All athletes and musicians are strongly encouraged to wear a mask when not actively participating/playing.
  • When in-person choir, singing, and woodwind and brass instrument lessons are conducted, certain mitigation measures are strongly encouraged to reduce the spread of respiratory droplets.
    • Singers who fall into any of the following groups are strongly encouraged to be masked, be situated at least 3 feet away or greater from each other, and all facing in the same direction.
      • All individuals aged 2-11 regardless of vaccination status.
      • Individuals aged 12-17 who have NOT completed a two dose primary vaccination series.
      • Individuals aged 18 or older who are NOT up to date on vaccinations.
    • Brass and woodwind instrument musicians are strongly encouraged to use bell covers and be situated at least 6 feet away from other musicians if they are indoors and fall into any of the above groups. As much as possible, hold performances, practices, and lessons outdoors.
    • Attendance of participants should be taken to facilitate contact tracing in the event a case is identified.
    • Screening testing of unvaccinated woodwind and brass musicians is strongly encouraged. If participating, it’s strongly recommended that musicians be tested twice a week or each day that they have group lessons, practices, or performances.

Plan for when someone becomes sick

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.

  • Ensure facility has updated contact information (including date of birth, phone number, home address, grade level, and cohort) for all staff and families to facilitate contact tracing and rapid communication.
  • The Health Department has created a sample parent/guardian agreement that describes their commitment to keeping their children home when sick and seeking appropriate medical care.
  • Schools should designate an isolation room or area for anyone who experiences COVID-19 symptoms. If using the nurse’s office, this area should be at least six feet apart from where other children or staff use the nurse’s office. If possible, use screens or curtains to create a barrier between individuals who are ill and in nurse’s office.
  • Staff who develop symptoms of COVID should immediately be sent home. If they need to be picked up, they should wait in the designated isolation room or area while waiting.
  • If students develop symptoms, they should be brought to a designated isolation room while waiting to be picked up. The staff member waiting with the student should wear a N95, KN95, KF94 or should double mask.
  • Cleaning/disinfecting after a COVID case or COVID symptoms: Clean and disinfect all areas used by the person who is sick, such as classroom, offices, bathrooms, common areas, and your isolation room or area and in the classroom where the sick child or staff member was after the sick child or staff member has gone home.

Reporting

In order to continue to make public safety recommendations, the Health Department’s COVID Containment Division’s Pediatric Partnerships team has been tracking patterns of transmission in schools, daycares, and other settings.

All COVID-19 cases (student or staff) must be reported to the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.

  • Reporting COVID-19 cases to the Philadelphia Department of Public Health can be done by completing a REDCap Pediatric Survey. If your school is not receiving daily REDCap surveys, please call (215) 685-5488 OR email schools@phila.gov for further guidance.

If 10% of a school’s population is positive, contact the Health Department at (215) 685-5488 OR email covid.schools@phila.gov for contact tracing and further guidance on response, access to outbreak testing or possible pauses to in-person learning.

Pauses

Most pauses are “functional” and due to staff shortages. Currently the Health Department is not recommending school- or class-wide pauses. However, longer pauses may be recommended for an entire school or specific cohort (e.g., an entire grade) in exceptional circumstances when large numbers of cases or close contacts present logistical and safety concerns. If the individual’s cohort or school is paused by the Health Department, then the individual should not attend school or any school-related activities.

Schools should prioritize contact tracing for close contacts in higher risk scenarios, such as mealtimes and extracurricular activities.

The Pediatric Partnerships team hopes that timely reporting of cases, in addition to other layers of mitigation, and accurate data reporting, will reduce the rates of transmission in your school community and keep families and children safer.

Read CDC’s full guidance for isolation and quarantine.


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