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COVID-19: K-12 Schools and Early Care and Education (ECE)

Group of children eating lunch at school

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, school district leaders across the state have consulted with local and tribal health departments to make difficult decisions as they balance the need for COVID-19 prevention strategies with quality instruction, access to technology, and the challenge of connecting students and families with needed resources like food, special education services, mental health services.

The resources on this page aim to help decision-makers plan, prepare, and respond to COVID-19 in K-12 schools and ECEs.

Guidance and resources

The Department of Health Services (DHS) encourages school and early care and education (ECE) program administrators, and local and tribal health departments to use the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's) Operational Guidance for K-12 Schools and Early Care and Education Programs to Support Safe In-Person Learning to ensure the health and safety of students, teachers, and staff.

Additional resources from DHS are included below:

  • Alternative Vaccinator List (Excel): Find COVID-19 vaccinators that are willing to support community-based, mobile, or homebound COVID-19 vaccination requests. Please note that DHS will not play a role in the coordination of these events, and all details should be coordinated with the vaccination partner directly.
  • Case Notification Letter Template, P-03298 (PDF): School and ECE program administrators may use the template to develop a letter for notifying families, teachers, and staff of COVID-19 cases in their school or program.
  • COVID-19 Prevention Strategies for Schools and ECE programs, P-03299 (PDF): This one-page resource includes strategies school and ECE program administrators can use to keep kids safe and in school.

Frequently asked questions

Schools and ECE programs should implement everyday strategies to prevent the spread of a variety of infectious diseases, including COVID-19.

Schools should implement the following strategies, regardless of their county's current COVID-19 community level.

  • Encourage everyone to stay up to date on vaccinations.
  • Encourage people to stay home when sick.
  • Maximize ventilation.
  • Promote proper hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette.
  • Implement enhanced cleaning.

Learn more about these strategies in the CDC's Operational Guidance for K-12 Schools and Early Care and Education Programs to Support In-Person Learning.

No. Quarantine is no longer recommended for people who were in close contact to someone with COVID-19 except in certain high-risk congregate settings (such as correctional facilities). However, all close contacts should wear a well-fitting mask or respirator at all times indoors for 10 days after their last exposure. Additionally, close contacts should get tested for COVID-19 at least five days after their last exposure.

Masks are not recommended for children under ages 2 years and younger, or for people with some disabilities. In these circumstances, other prevention actions (such as improving ventilation) should be used to avoid transmission for 10 days after exposure.

DHS recommends everyone ages 2 years and older, regardless of vaccination status, should wear a well-fitting mask in the following situations and settings:

  • In all indoor settings in areas with a high COVID-19 Community Level
  • In health care settings, including school nurses’ offices, regardless of the current COVID-19 Community Level
  • For 10 days after a known or suspected exposure to COVID-19
  • For at least 10 days after developing symptoms or testing positive for COVID-19. People can use a test-based strategy to potentially shorten the duration of mask use.

Children and staff that are immunocompromised or at high risk for severe illness are encouraged to talk to a doctor about the need to wear a well-fitting mask or respirator at school. Schools with students at risk for getting very sick with COVID-19 must make reasonable modifications when necessary to ensure that all students, including those with disabilities, are able to access in-person learning. Schools might need to require masking in settings such as classrooms or during activities to protect students with immunocompromising conditions or other conditions that increase their risk for getting very sick with COVID-19 in accordance with applicable federal, state, or local laws and policies.

Students with immunocompromising conditions or other conditions or disabilities that increase risk for getting very sick with COVID-19 should not be placed into separate classrooms or otherwise segregated from other students. For more information and support, visit the U.S. Department of Education’s Disability Rights webpage.

Staff may identify a potential COVID-19 outbreak within a school or ECE based on identified and reported confirmed, probable, or suspect SARS-CoV-2 infection cases determined to: 

  • Be above expected compared to the levels of circulation in the community,
  • Have concerning epidemiologic patterns or known linkages, 
  • Have high levels of syndrome-specific or illness-based absenteeism among staff or students,
  • Have clusters of ill students and/or staff that are in the same classroom, grade, or have attended a common event, or are members of an extracurricular activity, 
  • Have high levels of identified transmission in the school, group, or associated with school sanctioned extracurricular activities (where school transmission information is available), 
  • Have SARS-CoV-2 infections which are impacting staffing, spreading rapidly, or causing severe disease.

The following people should be excluded from in-person instruction and activities:

  • People who have symptoms of respiratory or gastrointestinal infections, such as cough, fever, sore throat, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • People who tested positive for COVID-19, with or without having symptoms, and have not yet finished their isolation period per public health recommendations

Students or staff who come to school or an ECE program with symptoms or develop symptoms while at school or an ECE program should be asked to wear a well-fitting mask or respirator while in the building and be sent home and encouraged to get tested if testing is unavailable at the facility. Symptomatic people who cannot wear a mask should be separated from others as much as possible; children should be supervised by a designated caregiver who is wearing a well-fitting mask or respirator until they leave the facility.

Routine screening testing is no longer recommended. However, schools and ECE programs may consider implementing screening testing in response to an outbreaks. Implementation of screening testing may also be considered for facilities in areas with a high COVID-19 Community Level for:

  • High-risk activities (for example, close contact sports, band, choir, theater)
  • Key times in the year (for example before/after large events such as prom, tournaments, group travel)
  • Returning from breaks (such as, holidays, spring break, at the beginning of the school year).

Schools and ECE programs serving students who are at risk for getting very sick with COVID-19, such as those with moderate or severe immunocompromise or complex medical conditions, may consider implementing screening testing at a medium or high COVID-19 Community Level.

Last revised November 9, 2023