Safety Measures for Individuals
What should happen at an individual level to make in-person instruction safer?
A key goal for safe schools is to reduce or eliminate in-school transmission. A helpful conceptual framing as schools implement safety measures for in-person instruction is the layering of mitigation strategies. Each strategy (face coverings, distancing, etc.) decreases the risk of in-school transmission, but no single strategy is 100% effective. It is the combination that has been shown most effective at decreasing transmissions.
Masks are one of the most effective and simplest safety mitigation layers to prevent in-school transmission of COVID-19 infections and to support full time in-person instruction in K-12 schools. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is transmitted primarily by aerosols (airborne transmission), and less frequently by droplets. Physical distancing is generally used to reduce only droplet transmission, whereas masks are one of the most effective measures for source control of both aerosols and droplets. Therefore, masks best promote both safety and in-person learning by reducing the need for physical distancing. Additionally, under the new guidance from the CDC, universal masking also permits modified quarantine practices under certain conditions in K-12 settings, further promoting more instructional time for students.
There are several circumstances under which a student or staff member might undergo testing. This section covers considerations for implementing testing in K-12 schools.
Unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated workers are required to undergo diagnostic screening testing.
- Weekly test: Unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated workers must be tested at least once weekly with either a PCR test or Antigen test. Workers must also observe all other infection control requirements.
- No exemptions: Even if workers have a medical contraindication to vaccination, they are not exempted from the testing requirement. A previous history of recovering from COVID-19 or a previous positive antibody test for COVID-19 does not waive the requirement for testing.
- School systems: Schools with workers required to undergo workplace diagnostic screening testing should have a plan in place for tracking test results and conducting workplace contact tracing and must report results to local public health departments.
For more information, visit CDPH’s Vaccine Verification for Workers in Schools.
Important Testing Considerations
Testing as an Additional Tool:
- Used in conjunction with other mitigation strategies, testing for SARS-CoV-2 provides an additional tool to support safe and successful K-12 in-person instruction.
- Testing can allow for early identification of cases. However, it should not be used as a standalone approach to prevent in-school transmission.
The Limitations of Testing: A negative test provides information only for the moment in time when the sample is collected. Individuals can become infectious shortly after having a negative test, so it is important to maintain all other mitigation strategies even if a recent negative test has been documented.
Setting Up Your Testing Program
The California Coronavirus COVID-19 Testing Task Force (TTF) has created the Playbook to Stand Up School-Based Collection Sites to make it easier for LEAs to partner with the state to ramp-up capacity of COVID-19 testing. This step-by-step guide includes more details about the eight critical steps:
- creating your collection plan;
- completing the onboarding forms;
- completing an onboarding checklist;
- registering with Color;
- ordering kits;
- supervising sample collection;
- shipping collected samples for processing; and
- reporting and billing.
- Finding a COVID-19 test site near you
- California COVID-19 Testing Task Force (TTF)
- CDPH’s general testing guidance
- Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards Frequently Asked Questions
- The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued Emergency Use Authorizations (EUA) for two COVID-19 vaccines. On August 23, 2021, the FDA approved the first COVID-19 vaccine. More vaccines may be authorized in the future.
- CDPH strongly recommends that all persons eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines receive them at the first opportunity.
- As of September 2021, people under 12 years of age are not eligible for the vaccine since trials for that group are still underway.
- Per the State Public Health Officer Order of August 11th, 2021, public and private schools serving students in transitional kindergarten through grade 12, inclusive (not applicable to home school), must verify vaccine status of ALL workers. Workers who are not fully vaccinated, or for whom vaccine status is unknown or documentation is not provided, must be considered unvaccinated. (They will be required to be tested weekly –refer to testing section)
- COVID-19 vaccines authorized by the FDA have been shown to be safe and effective in clinical trials.
- The U.S. vaccine safety system ensures that all vaccines are as safe as possible. Learn how the federal government is working to ensure the safety of COVID-19 vaccines.
- California formed a Scientific Safety Review Workgroup of experts to ensure the safety of COVID-19 vaccines. This workgroup has confirmed that the COVID-19 vaccines authorized by the FDA are safe and effective.
Influenza Vaccines: In addition to vaccines required for school entry, CDPH strongly recommends that all students and staff be immunized each autumn against influenza unless contraindicated by personal medical conditions, to help:
- Protect the school community;
- Reduce demands on health care facilities; and
- Decrease illnesses that cannot be readily distinguished from COVID-19 and would therefore trigger extensive measures from the school and public health authorities.
Additional Vaccine Information: Because vaccine implementation for schools is rapidly evolving, we are providing a separate vaccine guidance document that will be available on the Safe Schools for All Hub here.
- CDPH’s My Turn website helps individuals find a clinic or schedule a vaccination appointment for free
- CDPH’s Digital COVID-19 Vaccine Record allows individuals to get digital proof of their vaccination status
- Vaccines guidance on the Safe Schools for All Hub
- FAQs about Vaccine from the USC Keck School of Medicine
- Video: The Try Guys Debunk COVID vaccine conspiracy with Dr. Fauci, a dynamic video accessible to both parents and high school students
Masks are required for all individuals in K-12 schools and childcare indoor settings (including buses), regardless of vaccination status.
The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads in droplets that are exhaled by someone who has the virus. Protective equipment—such as face coverings, gloves, and plastic barriers—helps prevent the spread of COVID-19 by limiting the flow of these droplets. Students and staff should use face coverings indoors on campus, unless contraindicated, to reduce the chances of exposing each other to this virus.
- Share Information: Information contained in the CDPH Guidance for the Use of Face Coverings should be provided to staff and families of students.
- Teach and Reinforce Face Covering: Teach and reinforce the use of face coverings including, in limited instances, face shields with drapes.
- Face Covering for Adults: Adults in K-12 school settings are required to wear masks indoors at all times, regardless of vaccination status.
- Face Covering for Students: Students in all grade levels K-12 are required to wear face coverings indoors at all times while at school, unless exempted.
- When Staff Can Use Face Shields: In limited situations when cloth face coverings cannot be used for pedagogical or developmental reasons (e.g., communicating with or assisting young children or those with special needs), a face shield with a drape can be used while in the classroom as long as the wearer maintains physical distance from others.
- Face Covering Exemptions:
- Persons younger than two years old. Very young children must not wear a mask because of the risk of suffocation.
- Persons with a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that prevents wearing a mask. This includes persons with a medical condition for whom wearing a mask could obstruct breathing or who are unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove a mask without assistance.
- Persons who are hearing impaired, or communicating with a person who is hearing impaired, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication.
- Stock Extra Face Coverings: To prevent unnecessary exclusions, schools should develop protocols to provide a face covering to students who inadvertently fail to bring a face covering to school.
- Parabola Project resource on building a mask culture
- CA.GOV guidance on masks and face coverings
- CDPH’s Requirement for Universal Masking Indoors at K-12 Schools
- CDPH video: How to Wear a Mask
- CDC’s Use Masks to Slow the Spread of COVID-19
Enhanced hygiene practices will go a long way in helping schools reduce exposure to and the spread of COVID-19. LEAs will want to teach and reinforce washing hands, avoiding contact with one’s eyes, nose, and mouth, and covering coughs and sneezes among students and staff.
Students and staff should wash their hands frequently throughout the day, including before and after eating; after coughing or sneezing; after using the restroom; and after handling garbage.
- Handwash for 20 Seconds: Students and staff should wash their hands for 20 seconds with soap, rubbing thoroughly after application. Soap products marketed as “antimicrobial” are not necessary or recommended.
- Staff Set the Example: Staff should model and practice handwashing. For example, use bathroom time in lower grade levels as an opportunity to reinforce healthy habits and teach proper handwashing.
- Choosing Between Handwashing and Using Hand Sanitizers:
- Frequent handwashing is more effective than the use of hand sanitizers.
- When handwashing is not practicable, students and staff should rub fragrance-free hand sanitizer into hands until completely dry.
- Children under age nine should only use hand sanitizer under adult supervision. Call Poison Control if consumed: 1-800-222-1222.
- Provide adequate supplies to support healthy hygiene behaviors, including soap, tissues, no-touch trash cans, face coverings, and fragrance-free hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent ethyl alcohol for staff and children who can safely use hand sanitizer.
- Ethyl alcohol-based hand sanitizers are preferred and should be used when there is potential for unsupervised use by children. Isopropyl hand sanitizers are more toxic when ingested or absorbed in skin.
- Do not use hand sanitizers that contain methanol, which can be hazardous when ingested or absorbed.
As LEAs resume in-person instruction, it is reasonable to assume that not all students and staff will return to the school site at once due to unique circumstances. Schools should be prepared to offer distance learning for any student who would be put at risk by an in-person instructional model.
When implementing this guidance, schools should carefully consider how to address the legal requirements related to provision of a free appropriate public education and requirements to reasonably accommodate disabilities, which continue to apply. Refer to the CDC K-12 guidance section on “Disabilities or other health care needs” for additional recommendations.
Additionally, you should plan for cases that may warrant special attention when returning to in-person instruction:
- Students with Unique Circumstances: Support students who are at higher risk for severe illness or who cannot safely distance from household contacts at higher risk, by providing options such as distance learning.
- Staff with Unique Circumstances: LEAs will also need to navigate varying circumstances involving staff who have existing health conditions, are identified as “at risk,” or who live with or regularly interact with individuals who are in one of those categories.
- Cases That May Require Special Attention When on Campus: Schools should develop a plan to further support students with access and functional needs who may be at increased risk of becoming infected or having unrecognized illness due to COVID-19. Examples include: students with limited mobility or who require prolonged and close contact with others, such as direct support providers and family members; individuals who have trouble understanding information or practicing preventive measures (handwashing, physical distancing); and individuals who may not be able to communicate symptoms of illness.
We are all in this together. Train all staff and provide educational materials to families on the following topics:
- Proper use, removal, and washing of face coverings
- COVID-19 specific symptom identification and when to seek medical attention
- How COVID-19 is spread
- The importance of staff and students not coming to work/school if they have symptoms, or if they or someone they live with, or they have had close contact with, has been diagnosed with COVID- 19
- The employer’s plan and procedures to follow when staff or students become sick at school
- The employer’s plan and procedures to protect staff from COVID- 19 illness
For more information about how this tool was created and answers to other questions, see the FAQ section.