Safe Operations Guide for Early Childhood Programs, K–12 Schools, and Institutions of Higher Education

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COVID continues to pose a risk to students, faculty, and staff

Over 2 years into the COVID pandemic, we face the most contagious variant yet—Omicron.

Although Omicron tends to cause less severe illness than earlier variants, such as Delta, the ease with which it spreads means large numbers of people will still get very sick, need hospital care, and die from COVID.

More people in the United States have been hospitalized from Omicron infections than from any other variant, and COVID continues to claim the lives of hundreds of people every day.

Early childhood programs, K–12 schools, and institutions of higher education (collectively, “schools”) can support safe, in-person learning by following the guidance below.

How to support safe in-person learning

Offer and promote COVID vaccination. You’re best protected against the worst outcomes of COVID when you get vaccinated and stay up to date with your COVID vaccine. Everyone 6 months or older should get a COVID vaccine. All vaccinated people 6 months and older should get an updated COVID vaccine when eligible to help protect against Omicron.

Make it easy to get vaccinated by partnering with vaccine providers to host on-site vaccination clinics. Institutions of higher education can also provide COVID vaccines at your campus health clinic or provide free transportation to off-campus vaccination sites for students who need assistance.

Make sure your sick leave and absence policies enable students, faculty, and staff to miss class or work to get vaccinated and deal with potential side effects.

Use resources from the We Can Do This campaign to distribute vaccine information.

Consider requiring proof of vaccination. Many institutes of higher education require students, faculty, and staff to show proof of vaccination to be allowed on campus or inside facilities. Some school districts also have a vaccine mandate. For example, the District of Columbia requires all students 12 and older to be vaccinated against COVID.

Determine whether and how you can securely verify vaccine records in accordance with your state and local laws.

Offer diagnostic testing. Knowing whether you have been infected with COVID can help keep you from spreading the virus to others. Provide students, faculty, and staff with convenient ways to test themselves for COVID if they are having symptoms or think they have been exposed to the virus.

Consider screening students for COVID at certain times. Although CDC no longer recommends routine screening for COVID, consider screening students, faculty, and staff, regardless of vaccination status, when the risk that COVID poses to your community is high, such as:

  • For high-risk activities, such as close-contact sports, band, choir, and theater.
  • At key times of the year, such as before and after large events like prom, homecoming, tournaments, and group travel.
  • When returning from long breaks, such as for holidays and between school years or semesters.

Promote consistent and correct mask use and handwashing. CDC recommends that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask inside public places, including in school facilities, when the risk that COVID poses to your community is high. Schools should also have policies in place to support anyone who chooses to wear a mask, regardless of the risk that COVID poses to the community. In addition, any students or staff members who have or develop COVID symptoms should wear a mask while inside school facilities and should be sent home; anyone exposed to COVID should wear a mask while inside school facilities for 10 days following exposure.

Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if you don’t have soap and water, is one of the best ways to prevent getting and spreading COVID and other infectious diseases.

Encourage people to stay home when sick. Staying home when sick is essential to preventing the spread of COVID. Make sure your sick leave, absence, and teleworking/remote learning policies are such that students, faculty, and staff don’t have to worry about missing class or work to quarantine or isolate from others due to COVID.

Properly ventilate, clean, and disinfect facilities. COVID spreads most easily indoors, but good ventilation can help reduce viral particle concentration in the air and reduce people’s risk of exposure.

Your risk of getting COVID from touching a surface is low. But you may want to clean high-touch surfaces at least once a day to remove any viral particles that may be on them. You should also clean high-touch surfaces after someone with confirmed or suspected COVID has been in your facility.

Cleaning with products that have soap or detergent is usually enough. You may want to either clean more frequently or disinfect (in addition to cleaning) your facility, for example, if COVID is spreading a lot in your community or your facilities are occupied by people at increased risk for severe illness from COVID.

If you know that someone with COVID has been in your facility within the last 24 hours, you should clean and disinfect the space.

More information

For more information, including how to respond to outbreaks and strategies to protect students with disabilities and people at risk of getting very sick from COVID, see CDC’s Guidance for Schools and Childcare Programs.