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Best Practice Recommendations
This toolkit and the resources included within it were developed in collaboration with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Colorado Association of Local Public Health Officials and the Colorado Department of Education.
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Vaccines are our best defense against COVID-19. In addition to protecting communities at large, high rates of vaccination among eligible students, teachers, staff, and household members are the most effective strategy to help schools resume full operation.
CDC and CDHPE recommend everyone who is eligible get a COVID-19 vaccine. Students and staff with underlying health conditions are more likely to experience severe health impacts such as hospitalization and death from COVID-19 and are strongly advised to get vaccinated. If they are unable to get vaccinated, they should continue practicing a layered approach to prevent COVID-19 using the strategies listed in this toolkit.
Schools can play an important role in encouraging and educating their communities about the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.
CDPHE has developed many vaccination resources to support this effort and added information about COVID-19 vaccines to the online vaccine education module.
CDPHE is prepared to support schools who wish to host a vaccination event for their students, faculty, and staff. For more information or to request event support, see the Event Based Vaccination Request Form.
Additional resources are available, including testimonials, talking points, social media graphics, and more, to help schools communicate with their communities about the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines:
- Vaccine campaign and educational toolkits
- CDPHE Adolescent COVID-19 Vaccination toolkit
- COVID-19 vaccine FAQs
- Vaccine equity strategy talking points
Additionally, CDPHE has added COVID-19 vaccines to the “recommended vaccines” section of the official Colorado Certificate of Immunization to better enable incoming students to share records of their immunizations with their school.
As of July 27, 2021 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends universal masking for all teachers, staff and students regardless of vaccination status in schools.
CDPHE recommends local public health agencies and school districts implement universal mask requirements for all individuals entering K-12 schools in Colorado.
Even when not required, unvaccinated and vaccinated students and staff may choose to wear masks. Schools and school districts should ensure that every classroom is a welcome environment for students and staff who choose to wear masks as a way to protect themselves
Assure a proper fit over the mouth and nose.
Masking on school buses and other public transportation is required by Federal Order (see transportation section below).
Information on the state opt-in mask program that provides KN95 respirators and surgical masks at no cost for students and staff at school districts, BOCES, charter schools, private schools and facility schools can be found on the Masks for Colorado Schools webpage.
Related Links and Resources
- CDC - Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People
- CDC - Your Guide to Masks
- CDPHE - Guidance for Wearing Masks, Including FAQs
- Children's Hospital Colorado - Masks for Kids: What you Need to Know About Face Coverings
- American Academy of Pediatrics - Mask Mythbusters: 5 Common Misconceptions about Kids & Cloth Face Coverings
- CDC - Requirement for Face Masks on Public Transportation
- CDE - Masks for Colorado Schools
Schools are encouraged to implement weekly serial testing.
CDPHE recommends serial weekly testing of unvaccinated individuals, especially those participating in extracurricular activities where masking and physical distancing are challenging.
CDPHE recommends that 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 CDPHE's free and voluntary COVID-19 School Screening Testing Program for the 2021-22 school year. If a school or school district is interested learning more about this program, contact email@example.com.
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.
Daily symptom screening prior to arrival is important for catching potential cases early and keeping them out of the school environment. Symptom screening is also an important tool for extracurricular activities.
Individuals are assumed to be contagious two days before they start having symptoms and 10 days after symptoms start. COVID-like symptoms may include any or many of the following: loss of taste or smell, fever (100.4°F or higher), chills, new or worsening cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, headache, sore throat, muscle or body aches, congestion or runny nose, fatigue, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea.
Electronic screening forms and apps can simplify and automate the process of daily screening for schools.
One of the best things we can do to keep schools safe and operating is to stay home when we are not feeling well and follow requirements for isolation of cases of COVID-19.
We can all commit to keeping our schools healthy. One of the easiest things we can do is recognize when we're not feeling well and stay home until we recover or are evaluated and tested.
Related Links and Resources
- CDPHE - Symptom Screening Information
- CDPHE - At Home Symptom Screening Tool for Parents and Staff
- CDPHE - Return to Learn: Guidance Following a Positive COVID-19 Symptom Screen
- CDPHE - How Sick is Too Sick? When Children and Staff Should Stay Home from School or Child Care
- CDPHE - Addressing Symptoms at School
- CDPHE - How to Isolate
The recommended physical distance between students within classrooms is three feet, combined with indoor masking for students and staff. When this is not possible, it is especially important to layer multiple prevention strategies such as indoor masking, and improved ventilation.
A distance of at least six feet is recommended between students and teachers/staff, and between teachers/staff who are not fully vaccinated. This is particularly important in higher risk activities if masking is not possible.
Related Links and Resources
COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses are spread through respiratory droplets. Respiratory droplets are produced when we breathe, talk, sneeze or cough.
Improving ventilation, increasing air exchanges and filtration assist with the dilution of any contaminants that might be in the space.
Schools can do several things to improve ventilation.
Opening windows and doors is an easy and inexpensive way to increase ventilation and air flow.
Additionally, HVAC systems should be maintained in good working order and running when the building is occupied. HVAC systems should run 30 to 60 minutes before and after occupants are present in the building.
Depending on the system, HEPA filters might be able to be added to existing HVAC systems and portable HEPA units can be added to classrooms to assist in cleaning the air. Check with your HVAC system specialist to ensure HVAC settings are correct.
Outdoor activities are strongly encouraged, especially for higher risk activities and meal times.
Fans can be used to draw air out of indoor spaces or to draw fresh air into indoor spaces. Avoid placing fans in a way that could potentially cause contaminated air to flow directly from one person to another.
Related Links and Resources
- CDPHE - Ventilation in Schools Toolkit
- CDC - COVID-19 Ventilation in Buildings
- CDC - Tools to Improve Ventilation
- CDC- Ventilation FAQs
- American Society of Heating and Air-Conditioning Engineers - Filtration and Disinfection
- CDC - Mask Use and Ventilation Improvements to Reduce COVID-19 Incidence in Elementary Schools (PDF)
- CDC - Ventilation and Fans
- CDC - Ventilation in Schools
- Rules and Regulations Governing Schools in the State of Colorado - 6 CCR 1010-6 - Ventilation Requirements 6.9.3 page 19
Handwashing is one of the best infection prevention strategies to control transmission of COVID-19 and many other infectious diseases in school settings.
Well stocked functioning hand sinks are important to assure students and staff have the means to properly wash their hands throughout the day.
Hand sanitizer stations are another good tool to encourage hand hygiene in schools.
Signage about how and when to wash hands provide good reminders for students and staff to practice hand hygiene.
Respiratory etiquette keeps respiratory droplets and viral particles in schools low and is considered another great way to keep schools operating safely.
Remind staff and students to cover their coughs and sneezes.
Signage about covering your coughs and sneezes provides good reminders for students and staff to practice good respiratory etiquette.
Routine, at least daily, cleaning of commonly touched surfaces is recommended.
If there is a case or outbreak in your school, the CDC recommends routine or at least daily cleaning and disinfecting.
Please note: Daily disinfection is now recommended only when there are known cases and outbreaks or ongoing transmission in the school.
Seating charts can help schools quickly identify those who have been in close contact with someone who is ill, so that they can monitor for symptoms and protect others such as family members and friends who may be more at risk of severe illness.
Seating charts may not be age-appropriate for very young children in ECE and elementary school environments.
Passengers and drivers must wear a mask on school buses, including on buses operated by public and private school systems, subject to the exclusions and exemptions in the CDC Order issued on Jan. 21, 2021.
School transportation systems are essential. Not only to ensure schools can operate but also for families who depend on their services.
During school transportation: CDC's Order applies to all public transportation conveyances including school buses. Regardless of the mask policy at school, passengers and drivers must wear a mask on school buses, including on buses operated by public and private school systems, subject to the exclusions and exemptions in CDC's Order. Learn more here. For example, if a student attends a school where mask use is not required due to vaccination status (e.g., a high school with a high rate of vaccination), the student is still required to wear a mask on the school bus.
Schools should provide masks to those students who need them (including on buses), such as students who forgot to bring their mask or whose families are unable to afford them. No disciplinary action should be taken against a student who does not have a mask as described in the U.S. Department of Education COVID-19 Handbook, Volume 1.
Bus operators should use best efforts to ensure that anyone entering or on the bus wears a mask, e.g. adequate signs, allowing entry only to those who wear a mask, monitoring, etc.