Due to extremely cold conditions, the City is implementing special measures to keep people who are homeless safe. If you see someone who needs shelter, call (215) 232-1984.
In effect: 3:00 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 14 until further notice

COVID-19 vaccine

The vaccine is now available for everyone 5 and older! Get your children vaccinated today. Find a City-run vaccine clinic or partner vaccine clinic to protect yourself and your loved ones. If you have questions about vaccination, call (215) 685-5488.

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

Schools and early childhood education guidance

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.

Note the early childhood education section at the bottom of this page.


Due to the increased case rates in Philadelphia and throughout the U.S., the Health Department has evaluated how we can most effectively use our resources to slow the spread of COVID-19 to prevent it from overwhelming both our schools and hospital systems.

Institutions with certain mitigation standards in place (outlined below) show lower risk of transmission. 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 to follow shortened quarantine and isolation recommendations. Schools that do not yet meet the mitigation criteria should follow longer isolation and quarantine recommendations. Details on this guidance are outlined throughout this document.

Last updated: January 19, 2022

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

Vaccination, including booster shots, is 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.

Given the level of community spread at this time, the Health Department recognizes that attempting to contact trace and quarantine all in-school exposure is unattainable. Data continues to support that most transmission occurs outside of the school setting. Prioritizing identification and isolation of exposures during high-risk activities — lunch and other activities where masks cannot be worn (including when playing woodwind and brass instruments) — maximizes the impact of contact tracing on COVID-19 mitigation and the most effective use of resources.

In-school transmission is greatly quelled by strict implementation of mitigation measures as described below. Here are our recommendations:

  • Schools that are able should implement the following mitigation strategies:
    • Ventilation.
    • Contact tracing for lunchtime exposures.
    • An area where students, teachers, and staff can eat while removing their mask from days 6-10 that is separated from others.
    • Screening testing.
    • Firm adherence to masking guidance may opt to switch to 5-day isolation with strict masking for an additional 5 days.
  • Schools that are not yet able to implement one or more of these layers consistently should continue to have students isolate for 10 days.

Strict Masking/Mask Use: Individuals in schools following shortened isolation and quarantine guidance who return after Day 5 must wear a well-fitting mask in school, except while eating and drinking during lunch. These individuals must eat and drink in an area designated for those who are returning from isolation and quarantine which is separated from others by 6 to 10 feet from others. They may remove their mask to eat in drink in this area from days 6-10

Screening Testing: A random sample of 10% of the schools unvaccinated population (including staff, teachers, and students) should be tested weekly. Schools who are unable to fully meet this screening recommendation are ineligible to follow the updated quarantine/isolation guidance.

For more details, see below under Contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine in collaboration with the Health Department.

The following guidelines will help schools decrease the risk of COVID-19 for students and staff. This guidance also applies to programs that provide childcare for school-aged children after school or during the day. The guidance provided are a set of baseline or minimum recommendations based on guidelines from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health (PDPH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

The detailed guidance is categorized by the following key practices:

  • Enforcing universal and correct use of face masks for all staff and students > 2yrs of age when indoors except in specific situations outlined below.
  • Promoting physical distancing where possible.
  • Hand cleaning and respiratory etiquette.
  • Cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities.
  • Contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine, in collaboration with the Health Department.

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.

Enforcing universal and correct use of face masks


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


  • Require all staff to wear face masks that completely cover nose and mouth regardless of vaccination status whenever indoors with the exception of while eating or drinking and in special situations discussed below.
  • If using a disposable face mask, staff and students should use a new face mask each day. If wearing a cloth face mask, it should be laundered every day.
  • Encourage all students and staff to double mask with a cloth mask over a surgical mask or, if they prefer, to wear a well-fitted KN95, KF94, or N95 mask. For those who wear a single mask, a surgical mask is preferred over 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.
  • Wearing face masks may be more challenging for younger students and enforcement of this policy should be developmentally appropriate. For students unable to tolerate a face mask, a face shield is an alternative. Asthma is not a contraindication to wearing a face mask.
  • Face masks should not be placed on:
    • Anyone who is having trouble breathing or is unconscious.
    • Anyone who is incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the cloth face mask without assistance.
  • For teachers and staff who work with multiple students who cannot wear face masks, face shields may be used in addition to face masks, and eye protection (goggles) may be considered.
  • Students may remove their face masks during mealtimes, and when outdoors and greater than 6 feet apart from other students. “Mask Breaks” should be brief (less than 15 minutes).
  • Students should be encouraged to make sure their face masks cover their nose and mouth at all times.
  • Students should be encouraged to put on a clean face mask each day (either launder previously used face mask or replace disposable face mask).
  • Schools should have supply of masks to give to students who arrive to school without a mask or if a student’s or teacher’s mask becomes damaged during the school day.
  • School bus drivers and volunteer staff should wear face masks at all times in the school building and when interacting with school staff and students. (See transportation guidance below.)
  • Visitors must remain masked at all times.
  • Outdoor masking is encouraged for those who are not up to date with their COVID vaccines and in crowded settings or during activities that involve close contacts with others.
  • Students and staff who are up to date on their vaccinations may opt out of mask wearing during athletic training and competition and performing arts. Unvaccinated students must continue to mask during all sports and performing arts. See Extracurricular Activities (below) for more details.

Promoting physical distancing

For students:

  • In order to reduce the risk of transmission, schools should both promote physical distancing as well as employ strategies that reduce the number of people in close contact with one another.
  • Though 3 feet of distance is optimal, schools that cannot maintain 3-foot distancing between students should plan for full, in-person education and encourage other mitigation measures such as masking and ventilation.
  • If conducting on-site daily health screen (see below), have students wait 3 feet apart while waiting to complete the screen.
  • Avoid large assemblies or gatherings and other indoor activities without assigned seating. If avoiding large gatherings is not feasible, having students sit with their classroom group/cohort in assigned seating will assist in identifying close contacts.
  • Consider eliminating 3-foot distancing if children are kept in strict cohorts when indoors.
  • At least 3 feet of distance must be maintained between students during mealtimes. Employ one or more of the following strategies:
    • Eating at desks in their classroom, maintaining 3-feet of distance.
    • Alternate spaces for meals, such as outdoor areas or large indoor rooms, if safe food handling and clean-up practices can be observed.
    • Stagger the use of the cafeteria and other mealtime spaces so that all students can maintain distance from the others and that class cohorts eat together to avoid mixing of classes. If a cafeteria must be used, use seat markers to designate where students should sit. To help facilitate contact tracing in the event a positive case is identified, use seating charts with assigned seats. Minimize the number of students per table.
  • Schools should use seating charts, particularly at lunch, to allow for easier contact tracing.
  • Close contacts are defined as those individuals that have been within 6 feet for 15 minutes within a 24-hour period, masked or unmasked.
  • For contact tracing purposes, individuals are considered close contacts at 6 feet or less. See more information below under Contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine in collaboration with the Health Department.

For staff:

  • Remind staff that they should limit the amount of time that they are not wearing a face mask and that they should continue to wear their face masks while in the break room when not actively eating.
  • Stagger break and lunch hours for staff to minimize interactions.
  • Space chairs in break rooms to maintain > 3 feet distance.
  • Post signs alerting employees to maintain distance and avoid eating near or across from each other.
  • Limit the number of non-essential personnel visiting school buildings. This does NOT pertain to personnel who provide essential in-school services to students that would not otherwise be accessible to them. Use video streaming or outdoor activities to provide enrichment experiences from individuals who are not members of the school community. Maintain electronic records of all visitors’ contact information to help facilitate contact tracing in the event a case is identified.

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

  • Drivers, attendants, and students must wear masks regardless of vaccination status.

Whenever possible, the following mitigation strategies are strongly encouraged:

  • Consider having spare masks to ensure passengers are wearing face masks.
  • Encourage regular hand hygiene upon entering and exiting the vehicle. Provide hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol at the entry of the school bus.
  • Students may sit behind the driver if a barrier is present (plexiglass or plastic curtain). If no barrier is present students should sit at least two rows behind the driver.
  • Consider directional flow to encourage distancing –Load the bus back to front and unload front to back.
  • Household members/siblings should be seated together in the same seat/side-by-side when possible.
  • All passengers should face forward when bus is operating.
  • 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.
  • Maintaining records of seating charts is strongly encouraged. Schools should use transportation records for reference when identifying close contacts of recently identified COVID -19 positive students, teachers, and/or staff.
  • For staff and students who must use carpools, encourage driver and passengers who do not live together to wear a face mask when sharing a vehicle. Recommend using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol before and after riding in the vehicle. Recommend limiting the number of passengers in the vehicle to only those necessary. If possible, passengers should sit as far as possible from the driver, such as in the rear seat diagonally across from the driver. Recommend improving ventilation by opening the windows or setting the air ventilation/air conditioning on non-recirculation mode.

For staff and students who take public transportation

The CDC requires face masks to be worn by all travelers while on public transportation. Masks should completely cover the traveler’s mouth and nose while awaiting, boarding, disembarking, or traveling on trains, ferries, subways, buses, taxis, and ride shares. They must also wear a face mask while indoors at transportation hubs. Read more about current CDC public transportation guidance.

Extracurricular activities

  • Guidelines for extracurricular activities are in place to allow the benefits of in-person participation while reducing the risks to students and staff, especially in those instances where students cannot wear a mask while participating.
  • Screening testing should be considered for students who play indoor sports who are 18 or older but not up to date with their COVID vaccinations or who are 5-17 and have not completed a full primary series of vaccination. If screening testing is conducted, consider rapid testing 2 times per week or before each practice, class and performance. If athletes are not up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines, they must keep masks on during play regardless of the testing regimen for individuals who are unvaccinated.
  • Athletes and musicians should wear a mask when not actively participating/playing.
  • In-person choir, singing, and woodwind and brass instrument lessons may be conducted if certain mitigation measures are in place to reduce the spread of respiratory droplets. Consider pausing these higher risk activities while case rates in the city are high.
    • Singers should be masked unless fully vaccinated, be situated at least 3 feet away or greater from each other, and all facing in the same direction.
    • Brass instrument musicians should use bell covers and must be situated at least 6 feet away from other musicians if they are indoors and not up to date with their COVID vaccines. Performances, practices, and lessons should be held outdoors as much as possible.
    • Musicians should clean their own instruments regularly.
    • Attendance of participants should be taken to facilitate contact tracing in the event a case is identified.
    • Screening COVID testing of unvaccinated woodwind and brass musicians is highly encouraged. Musicians should be tested twice a week or each day that they have group lessons, practices, or performances.

Hand cleaning and respiratory etiquette

Promote hand hygiene

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.

Cleaning and 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.

Optimize ventilation when possible


Increasing ventilation is an additional safety step and not a replacement for wearing face masks, keeping a safe distance from each other, reducing crowd sizes, handwashing, and other safety precautions.


If possible, increase ventilation in the building by either:

  • Opening windows and/or doors on opposite sides of the building and consider using fans to blow outside air through the building; 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.

Screening testing

Schools are encouraged to follow CDC guidance regarding 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. A random sample of 10% of the schools unvaccinated population (including staff, teachers, and students) should be tested weekly. Schools that are unable to fully meet this screening recommendation are ineligible to follow the shortened 5-day quarantine/isolation guidance.

Contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine in collaboration with the Health Department

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. The Health Department recommends prioritizing contact tracing during in-school time periods with higher risk of transmission, such as mealtimes and other activities where masks cannot be worn (e.g. when playing certain instruments).

All COVID-19 cases (student or staff) must be reported to the Health Department at (215) 685-5488 OR email covid.schools@phila.gov for further guidance. The Department will consult with you on management issues for your facility.

Student and staff screening

All facilities create a daily screening checklist for students and staff which includes screening for fever, symptoms, exposure and a visual inspection. This should be made available to all staff, parents, and students to self-monitor for signs of illness. The Health Department has developed a COVID-19 sample screening tool. All school staff should help reduce the risk of in-school COVID transmission by identifying any colleagues and students who appear to be ill. Schools should educate staff and parents on how to monitor symptoms at home every day. If an individual screens positive, they should not enter the facility. On-site screening of symptoms and exposure history may be helpful for MDS classrooms.

Watch for ANY of the following symptoms of COVID-19
Fever or chills

Muscle or body aches

Headache

Sore throat

Congestion or runny nose

Fatigue

Nausea or vomiting

Diarrhea

New or persistent cough

New loss of taste or smell

Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

If a child is exhibiting extreme fussiness, shortness of breath, or blue-colored lips, skin, nail beds the child’s parent should seek immediate medical attention.

Exposure: If an unvaccinated staff member or child has been exposed to anyone with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the past 10 days, they should return or remain home.  The Health Department has developed a sample test result letter to be given to caregivers explaining why the child is being dismissed and criteria for returning to the facility.

If a vaccinated staff member or student has been exposed, they should get tested 5-7 days after exposure.

Plan for when someone becomes sick or potentially exposed to COVID-19


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 surgical mask.
  • Close contacts are defined as those individuals that have been within 6 feet for 15 minutes within a 24-hour period, masked or unmasked.
  • 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.
  • Recommendations for 1- to 2-day closures may be provided when schools need additional time to identify, notify, and exclude close contacts. Longer closures may be recommended for an entire school or specific cohort (e.g., an entire grade) when the large numbers of cases or close contacts present logistical and safety concerns.
  • If 10% of a school’s population is positive, contact the Health Department (215) 685-5488 OR email covid.schools@phila.gov for contact tracing and further guidance on possible pauses.
  • If the individual’s cohort or school is paused, then the individual should not attend school or any school related activities.

Updated isolation and quarantine guidance

Quarantine based on vaccination status:

Group 1 (up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations/recent COVID infection)
People in the following categories do not need to quarantine if they come into close contact with someone with COVID-19:

Wear a well-fitting mask around others for 10 days from the date of their last close contact with someone with COVID-19 (the date of last close contact is considered day 0).

Group 2 (Not up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations)
People in the following categories should quarantine if they come into close contact with someone with COVID-19:

Regardless of vaccination status, individuals should also get tested at least 5 days after having close contact with someone with COVID-19, (unless they recovered from confirmed COVID-19 in the last 90 days.)

Everyone should monitor themselves for fever and other 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.

Individuals who are unable to wear a mask, should quarantine at home for 10 days.

Implementing mitigation measures to follow shortened isolation and quarantine guidance:

Schools that can implement optimized ventilation, contact tracing for lunchtime and extracurricular exposures, an area where students, teachers, and staff can eat while removing their mask from days 6-10 that is separated from others, screening testing, and firm adherence to masking guidance may choose to switch to 5-day isolation with strict masking for an additional 5 days after consultation with and approval by the Health Department. (See isolation/quarantine guidance outlined below.)

Schools that are not able to implement one or more of these layers consistently should continue to have students quarantine or isolate for 10 days when quarantine or isolation is required.

Schools using shortened (5 day) isolation and quarantine guidance:

The isolation period for schools opting for shortened isolation and quarantine, regardless of vaccination status, is 5 days from positive test collection or onset of symptoms. This is contingent on the ability of the positive individual to mask for an additional 5 days. Anyone who is unable to mask, must complete a 10-day isolation.

If symptoms develop, isolation period should be recalculated from date that symptoms started, even if that date is after the positive test date. Ending isolation is contingent on symptom improvement as well as absence of fever for 24 hours without fever reducing medication. If this criteria is not met to end isolation after 5 days, the individual should wait to end their isolation until their symptoms are improving and they are fever free for 24 hours without fever reducing medications.

Individuals in group 2 should quarantine for 5 days from the day of their last contact with someone with COVID-19 and wear a well-fitting mask around others for 10 days from the date of their last close contact with someone with COVID-19 (the date of last close contact is considered day 0).

Any individual not up to date with their vaccines (in Group 2 above) who has an ongoing household exposure must isolate quarantine while the person with COVID-19 is isolating AND for an additional 5 full days after the person with COVID-19 ends isolation. Then wear a well-fitting mask for another 5 days in public. Individuals in Group 1 do not need to quarantine, but must wear a well-fitting mask for 10 full days after their most recent contact.

Quarantines and pauses of 5 days are contingent upon 100% mask usage except during distanced meals. Schools must provide an area where students, teachers, and staff can eat while removing their mask from days 6-10 that is separated from others. If this area is not provided, a 5-day quarantine cannot be implemented.

Students and staff on days 6-10 after 5-day isolation or quarantine should not participate in activities where masks cannot be worn, such as playing certain instruments for the full 10 days. Symptom monitoring must continue for the entire 10 days regardless of vaccination status.

Schools using longer (10 day) isolation and quarantine guidance:

If a school cannot yet implement all the mitigation practices or is not opting for the shortened isolation/quarantine guidelines. The isolation period is 10 days.

Quarantine is 10 days. Individuals can get tested on or after day 5 and, if negative, can shorten their quarantine period to 7 days.

Individuals in Group 1 do not need to quarantine if they come into close contact with someone with COVID-19. (See Group 1 definition above.) Individuals must wear a well-fitting mask around others in public for 10 days from the date of their last close contact with someone with COVID-19 (the date of last close contact is considered day 0).

Any individual who is not up to date with vaccinations (in Group 2 above) and has an ongoing household exposure must quarantine while the person with COVID-19 is isolating AND for an additional for 10 full days after the person with COVID-19 ends isolation. Then wear a well-fitted mask for another 5 days in public. Individuals in Group 1 do not need to quarantine, but must wear a well-fitting mask for 10 full days after their most recent contact.

For more detail, read the CDC’s full guidance for isolation and quarantine.

Test to stay

  • Schools may choose to use this testing method in certain circumstances.
  • Rapid testing must be offered on site to take advantage of this option.
  • Families must be made aware that there is risk of continued exposure with test to stay and given the opportunity to allow their child to complete quarantine at home.
  • An individual with a household exposure may not participate in test to stay. For example, if a student’s parent or sibling tests positive for COVID, that student must complete their quarantine at home.
  • If an individual tests positive, the entire cohort must mask. Exposed individuals may not participate in activities where masks are removed, except for distanced meals, for 7 days after exposure.
  • Asymptomatic unvaccinated individuals who have had close contact must test as soon as possible after exposure, and within one day. Then individuals must test every other day until 7 days post exposure. If a testing day falls on a weekend or a day off from school, test on the next day in school.
  • If a student who has had a close contact usually takes public transportation to school, it is best practice for a household member to drop off and pick up the student to avoid use of public transportation.
  • If a household member is not available, the student must strictly adhere to all other test to stay guidelines, including frequency and timing of testing. Students should be reminded of the importance of well-fitting masks when taking public transportation.
  • Any unvaccinated cohort members who are unable to mask or refuse any test must complete quarantine out of school.
  • PCR recommended if there are multiple symptomatic individuals.
  • To alleviate staffing shortages, schools can supply teachers and other staff members who test positive with rapid tests to use on days 5 and 6 after their symptoms begin or, for those who are asymptomatic, on days 5 and 6 after their positive test. Those who test negative both times (with one test on the morning of day 6) can return on day 6 even if the school is generally requiring 10-day isolations and quarantines.

Common clinical scenarios

The Health Department will consult with you on COVID containment issues for your facility. Here are common clinical scenarios.

What are COVID-19 symptoms?

Symptoms of COVID- 19 are: are fever, chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, nausea/vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, congestion/runny nose, new or persistent cough, shortness of breath, new loss of sense of smell, new loss of sense of taste, *difficulty breathing, *confusion, *persistent chest pain or pressure, *cyanosis (pale gray or blue skin, lips, or nail beds), *inability to awaken or stay awake.  *These symptoms are very concerning and should be evaluated immediately by a healthcare provider.

I have COVID-19 symptoms. I have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.

  • A probable case is when someone has been exposed to COVID-19 AND develops COVID symptoms. Probable cases have a higher risk of spreading COVID-19 to others. COVID testing is strongly recommended. You may return to school after any of the following are true:
    • You test negative for COVID-19. You must also meet the school’s normal criteria for return after an illness. You MUST still complete quarantine because of your exposure history. Please see “I have been notified I am a close contact in a school setting.” OR
    • A clinician has evaluated you and documented an alternative diagnosis. You MUST still complete quarantine because of your exposure history. Please see “I have been notified I am a close contact in a school setting.” OR
    • If ALL the following are true:
      • you have followed the quarantine guidance above based on the criteria your school has met, AND
      • you don’t have a fever for at least 24 hours without taking fever-reducing medicines, AND
      • symptoms are improving (some mild symptoms may linger).
    • COVID-19 shares many symptoms with other potentially contagious conditions. Even if you are not diagnosed with COVID-19, you should still follow your school’s normal illness policy.

I have COVID-19 symptoms. I have received my primary series of COVID-19 vaccine.

  • Symptoms like fever, fatigue, headache, chills, myalgia, and pain in joints, may occur following COVID vaccination, usually within the first three days of vaccination. COVID symptoms that are atypical after vaccination (like cough, shortness of breath, runny nose, sore throat, loss of taste or smell should not be attributed to the COVID vaccine. COVID vaccination does not cause a positive COVID test so a positive test should not be attributed to vaccination.
  • Although COVID vaccines are effective in preventing severe illness, it is still possible to get milder COVID-19 and pass it on to others. If you have symptoms concerning for COVID, testing is strongly recommended. Testing for vaccinated individuals should be done 5-7 days after exposure.
  • You may return to school after any of the following are true:
    • You test negative for COVID-19. You must meet the school’s normal criteria for return after an illness. OR
    • A clinician has evaluated you, documented an alternative diagnosis, and verifies that you may return to school. A positive COVID test should NOT be attributed to vaccination. OR
    • If ALL the following are true:
      • If your school can implement all the mitigation practices and is opting for the shortened isolation/quarantine guidance, you have quarantined for at least 5 days, can wear a mask for an additional 5 days OR, if your school cannot implement all additional layered mitigation measures, 10 days have passed since symptoms have developed AND
      • you don’t have a fever for at least 24 hours without taking fever-reducing medicines AND
      • symptoms are improving (some mild symptoms may linger).
    • COVID-19 shares many symptoms with other potentially contagious conditions. Even if you are not diagnosed with COVID-19, you should still follow you school’s normal illness policy.

I tested positive for COVID-19. I am NOT immunocompromised. I do NOT have severe COVID-19.

  • A case is when someone tests positive for COVID-19.
  • If your school has opted for shortened isolation/quarantine guidance:
    • If you do not have any symptoms, stay home and isolate for 5 days, return to school on day 6 and strictly mask until day 10 after positive test. (Day 0 is the day the test was collected.)
    • If you develop symptoms, stay home and isolate for 5 days from symptom onset (if symptoms develop after positive test, isolation period starts over when symptoms develop). You may return to school on day 6 IF symptoms have improved and you have remained fever-free without fever reducing medications for 24 hours. Continue strict mask-wearing for an additional 5 days.
    • If you develop symptoms that are NOT improving after 5 days of symptom onset, continue to isolate at home until symptoms are improving and you are fever free for 24 hours without fever reducing medications.
  • If your school is not implementing shortened isolation/quarantine guidance:
    • Isolate at home for 10 days. You may return to school 10 days after symptoms started, if you don’t have a fever for at least 24 hours without taking fever-reducing medicines, and symptoms are improving (some mild symptoms may linger). If you do not have symptoms you may return to school 10 days after the COVID test was performed.
  • Close contacts during higher risk scenarios — mealtimes and extracurricular activities — must be identified and notified.

I tested positive for COVID-19. I am immunocompromised or I have had severe COVID-19.

  • This is still considered a case. Please consult CDC guidance, the Health Department, or your medical provider to determine if you considered SEVERELY immunocompromised or have had severe COVID-19. If you are SEVERELY immunocompromised or have had severe COVID-19, isolation should be extended to, at least, 20 days.

I tested positive for COVID-19. I have previously tested positive for COVID-19.

  • If the two test dates are greater than 90 days apart, the second test is considered a new case, and you should isolate. Please refer to the instructions for isolation above.
  • If the test dates are between 45 and 90 days, you do not need to isolate but you should monitor your symptoms. If you develop symptoms, you should be evaluated by a medical provider.
  • If the two test dates within 45 days apart, the second positive test likely represents the shedding of bits of the virus, but you are not likely infectious. You do not need to isolate.

I tested positive for COVID-19. I have been vaccinated.

  • A breakthrough case is when someone who is up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines is diagnosed with COVID. A breakthrough case is treated the same as a case. Please see “I tested positive for COVID-19” above. Vaccination does NOT cause someone to test positive for COVID-19.

I tested positive for COVID-19. I am an essential worker.

  • This is still considered a case. Please see guidance above. Healthcare workers follow separate guidance. Read more about healthcare worker guidance. Please reach out to the Health Department if your question pertains to a healthcare worker.

I tested positive for COVID-19. I was wearing a mask while at school.

  • This is still considered a case. Please see guidance above.

Who is considered a close contact in a school setting?

Regardless of facemask use, students, teachers, and staff who were within 6 feet apart from the individual with COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more during the infections period are close contacts. At this point in the pandemic, we ask schools to prioritize contact tracing for close contacts in higher risk scenarios, such as mealtimes and extracurricular activities.

To identify close contacts, schools should maintain records of students seating charts in lunchrooms and involvement in athletics and extracurriculars. Schools should limit congregation in hallways, at lockers, and in any other communal space.

The infectious period of a positive individual (during which a close contact can be exposed to COVID-19) starts 2 days before their positive test or 2 days before symptoms onset.

What are the criteria for pausing in-school instruction and activities?

If 10% of a school’s population is positive, contact the Health Department at (215) 685-5488 OR email covid.schools@phila.gov for further guidance and possible pauses.

I have been notified I am a close contact in a school setting. I have tested negative for COVID-19.

  • If you are required to quarantine for 10 days (based on vaccination status and school guidance), your quarantine may be shortened to 7 days if the student/staff member tests negative for COVID-19. The test should be done 5-7 days after exposure and no more than 48 hours before they plan to leave quarantine. A negative test prior to this timeframe does not qualify you for a shortened quarantine period. See calculating isolation and quarantine period (PDF). Test to stay may apply.

I have been notified I am a close contact in a school setting. I have been vaccinated.

  • You do NOT need to quarantine after close contact with someone with COVID-19 if ALL the following are true:
  • However, you DO need to quarantine after close contact with someone who is positive if ANY of the following are true:
    • You are 18 years or older and completed the primary series of recommended vaccine, but have not received a recommended booster shot when eligible.
    • You have received a single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine (completing the primary series) over 2 months ago and have not received a recommended booster shot.
    • You are not vaccinated or have not completed a primary vaccine series.

Regardless of vaccine status, if testing is available, you should get tested 5–7 days after exposure to a case.

For 10 days after exposure or until a negative test result, individuals should wear a mask and abstain from activities that would require unmasking with the exception of distanced meal breaks and mask breaks.

I have been notified I am a close contact in a school setting. I have symptoms.

  • A probable case is when someone has been exposed to COVID-19 AND develops symptoms. Please see “I have COVID symptoms. I have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.” above.

I have been notified I am a close contact in a school setting. I have been vaccinated. I have symptoms.

  • Although COVID vaccines are effective in preventing severe illness, it may still be possible to get milder COVID-19 and pass it on to others. You should still be evaluated for a COVID-19 and be tested.
  • Please see “I have a COVID- symptoms. I have been vaccinated.” above for criteria to return to school.

A student’s family member who lives in the same household tested positive for COVID-19. The student has an ongoing exposure to this household member and is not vaccinated. The student does not have any symptoms.

  • If the school is eligible and has chosen shortened isolation/quarantine guidance, then the student, who is not vaccinated, must quarantine during their family member’s isolation period and continue to quarantine 5 days after that family member’s isolation period. The student should mask for an additional 5 days around others at home and at school/in public.
  • If the student is vaccinated with all recommended doses (including boosters and additional doses if eligible) and has an ongoing exposure to someone (such as providing personal care or sharing a room), they do not need to quarantine, but should get tested twice:
    • (1) 5-7 days after first exposure during the *infectious period AND
    • (2) 5-7 days after the last day of isolation for the person with COVID.
  • The infectious period is 2 days before the positive test or 2 days before symptoms began and generally ends 5 days after positive test or symptoms onset. If the person is immunocompromised or had severe COVID, the infectious period may be longer.

I am a close contact of a close contact.

  • A secondary contact is someone who was in close contact with someone else who was exposed to COVID. For example, this could be the classmate of an asymptomatic student whose sibling has COVID. Quarantine is not recommended for secondary contacts.
  • However, recommendations may change if the primary contact ends up becoming symptomatic or tests positive for COVID.

Childcare and early childhood education centers

ECE facilities should follow the PA Office of Child Development and Early Learning’s provider resources where applicable, including reporting requirements. Masking continues to be required in all Early Childhood Education Centers in Philadelphia.

Napping/resting

  • Increase the space between cribs and rest mats to maximize the space between children. The cribs and rest mats should be 3 feet apart if space permits. Consider having children nap in head-to-feet positioning to maximize space between children’s faces.
  • Use bedding (sheets, pillows, blankets, sleeping bags) that can be washed. Keep each child’s bedding separate, and consider storing in individually labeled bins, cubbies, or bags. Cots and mats should be labeled for each child. Bedding that touches a child’s skin should be cleaned at least weekly or before use by another child.

Hand hygiene

  • Children should be supervised by an adult when using hand sanitizer to avoid accidental ingestion or contact of hand sanitizer with their eyes. For younger children, staff should apply the sanitizer and rub the children’s hands until they are dry.

Face masks

  • Face masks should not be placed on:
    • Babies and children younger than 2 years old.
    • Anyone who has trouble breathing or is unconscious.
    • Anyone who is incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the cloth face mask without assistance.
    • Anyone during naptime.

Additional resources


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

Contact the Health Department at (215) 685-5488 OR email covid.schools@phila.gov.

For medical advice, call your healthcare provider.


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