Recommendations for Opening Schools this fall

Colorado is following CDC’s recommendations for schools. This guide is designed to help schools operationalize and clarify CDC’s recommendations.

Because many students have yet to be vaccinated and students under 12 are not yet eligible, we must continue to remain vigilant, take important mitigation steps that can reduce transmission of COVID-19, and address outbreaks in a safe and thoughtful manner. Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) will adopt and elaborate upon CDC school guidance, which was released on July 9, 2021. CDPHE is providing this practical guide for schools, parents, and students on how to operationalize CDC guidance in our education settings. 

This guide to operationalizing CDC guidance is aimed at disease control and minimizing the risk of exposure in education settings. But, we know students’ wellness extends well beyond just disease control. Schools, educators, parents, and students must balance all of the needs of our students in order to achieve wellness and create a productive learning environment. With this in mind, the state has let all statewide school-based health orders and mandates expire and instead has adopted a guidance model designed to empower local public health and local leaders to protect their communities using the mitigation strategies most appropriate to local conditions. The guidance provides practical tools to assess the risks of COVID-19 and minimize those risks. The guidance does not constitute statewide requirements, but instead outlines evidence-based best practices for local governments and schools to implement together to manage the next stage of the pandemic. 

The state continues to recommend a layered approach of best practices to COVID-19 prevention. This outline of best practices describes in detail in the Back to School Roadmap, including ventilation, maximization of outdoor activities, mask-wearing, testing, spacing, cohorting, symptom screening, cleaning and disinfecting, and handwashing. It also includes information for local public health agencies, schools, and parents about community transmission and layered precautions. 

When schools have low vaccination rates (defined as a vaccination rate under 80% among staff and students age 12 and older) and their communities are experiencing high rates of community transmission (defined as 35 cases per 100,000 people over seven days), the local public health agency should work with schools and school districts to institute higher precautionary measures, such as:

* Universal masking (if not already implemented as recommended at all transmission levels). 

* Increased physical distancing.

* Serial COVID-19 testing and screening programs.

* Contact tracing.

* Targeted quarantining.

* Limiting high risk activities.

In addition to communities facing higher risk factors, certain student groups may be at greater risk of COVID-19 due to the nature of their activities. Riskier activities include indoor sports, contact sports, and other activities involving forced exhalation such as band or orchestra. In these higher risk settings, local public health and school districts should consider precautionary measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as universal masking, serial testing and screening programs, contact tracing, targeted quarantining, vaccine outreach, and educational efforts. During the spring 2021 semester, outbreaks of COVID-19 often originated with these groups of students and then spread to the larger school community, disrupting learning.

Similar to adults, students with underlying health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, asthma, down syndrome, and heart disease are more likely to experience severe health impacts, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19. Students and staff with these underlying health conditions are strongly advised to get vaccinated. If they cannot get vaccinated, they should continue practicing a layered approach to prevent COVID-19.

Regardless of transmission and vaccination rates, all education settings should create the safest environment possible for their students through tried-and -true disease prevention measures. These include promoting hand washing, ensuring good ventilation, encouraging activities outside, social distancing, and asking sick students to stay home following CDPHE’s Return to Learn tool. In addition, CDC and CDPHE recommend universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. Universal masking is an especially critical strategy when a community is at higher risk of transmission, such as when vaccination rates are low and in schools where students are not yet eligible for vaccination. Schools should create an accepting environment for parents and students who choose to use masks even when they are not required.

Not only is COVID-19 vaccination Colorado’s best defense against the pandemic, vaccination also prevents disruptions to in-person learning. Fully vaccinated staff and students never have to miss school due to quarantine. The COVID-19 vaccines have been highly successful at reducing transmission, infections, and deaths. As we look towards the fall, CDPHE looks forward to partnering with schools and districts to host vaccination clinics and increase our defense against this virus. Vaccines are essential for students and caretakers alike. Children’s risk of contracting COVID-19 is greatly reduced when they live in a household where all eligible individuals are fully vaccinated, even if the children are not yet eligible for vaccination. Any school or school district interested in hosting a vaccination clinic can complete the online Vaccination Event Request Form. Throughout the school year, CDPHE will monitor disease transmission, severity, and vaccine effectiveness trends as well as community feedback. We will update our guidance and disease control strategies as the COVID-19 landscape changes with a continued focus on the essential nature of in-person learning.

Both local and state public health have statutory, legal and regulatory authority to investigate and control disease transmission, including isolation of cases and quarantine of close contacts, closing public places and prohibiting gathering to control the spread of disease. Statutory citations include but are not limited to 25-1.5-102(1), 25-1-506(3)(b)(V), 25-1-122(2), 25-1.5-101(1)(a),(h),(k) and (l), C.R.S.. Regulatory authority includes, 6 CCR 1009-1, 6 CCR 1010-6 and 6 CCR 1010-7.

  1. Can my child go to school today?
  2. What if I've tested postive?
  3. Who is a "Close Contact"?
  4. Positive Case in a School
  5. Youth Sports

Parents and guardians can use these symptom checklists to determine when to keep their child at home. School staff can also use this tool to determine if they need to stay at home. Any student or staff diagnosed with COVID-19 or who is a close contact of a COVID-19 case should not go to school and should isolate or quarantine according to public health recommendations regardless of current symptoms.

This symptom screen refers only to new symptoms or a change in usual symptoms . A student/staff should not be kept home for usual symptoms they experience due to a chronic condition unless they are worse than usual. These guidelines are in addition to your regular school guidance (for example, a child with vomiting should also not attend school based on usual school guidance). Please refer to the Return to Learn guidance to determine when it is appropriate to return to school.

If your child is/you are experiencing any potentially life-threatening symptoms please call 911.

Symptom Screen:

If any of the following symptoms are present, keep the child at home/stay at home, inform the school of symptoms, and reach out to a health care provider about COVID-19 testing and next steps for treatment.

❏ Feeling feverish, having chills, or temperature 100.4°F or higher.

❏ New or unexplained persistent cough.

❏ Shortness of breath.

❏ Difficulty breathing.

❏ Loss of taste or smell.

❏ Fatigue.

❏ Muscle aches.

❏ Headache.

❏ Sore throat.

❏ Nausea or vomiting.

❏ Diarrhea.

❏ Runny nose or congestion.