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CDC Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools

This page was created on July 16, 2021.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released updated Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools.

The guidance developed by the CDC continues to highlight the importance of public health prevention strategies. Schools should continue to utilize prevention strategies such as masking, physical distancing, testing, ventilation, handwashing, and staying home when sick to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

While previous public health guidance recommended alternative instructional models to prevent transmission, the recently updated CDC guidance prioritizes layered prevention strategies that can be implemented by schools to maintain full in-person instruction. 

The information below highlights some of the more significant changes the CDC has made to its public health guidance to support in-person learning while implementing strategies to prevent transmission of COVID-19 among students and staff. Schools should refer to the full CDC guidance to plan for the upcoming school year, as the Pennsylvania Departments of Health and Education will not be releasing separate state guidance or recommendations at this time.

The CDC information below is current as of July 13, 2021.


Face Coverings and Masks

  • CDC guidance on masking recommends indoor mask use for those who are not fully vaccinated, including students, teachers, and school staff.
  • The CDC also highlights that schools may consider universal masking based on the needs of the school community, such as level of community transmission* and local vaccination coverage.
  • In general, people do not need to wear masks when outdoors.
  • Per the CDC's order on wearing masks on public transportation, regardless of the school mask policy, masks are required to be worn by passengers and drivers on school buses.

Physical Distancing

  • The CDC recommends maintaining at least 3 feet of physical distance between students in classrooms, with additional layered mitigation efforts employed if distance recommendations would prevent a school from fully reopening. 

Contact Tracing, Isolation, and Quarantine

  • Schools should continue to work with DOH or county or municipal health departments (CMHD) to complete contact tracing for individuals diagnosed or exposed to COVID-19. As part of the contact tracing process, DOH and CMHDs will continue to work with schools to gather information about potential close contacts.
  • The CDC guidance adds the following exception to the definition of close contact:
    • In the K–12 indoor classroom setting, the close contact definition excludes students who were within 3 to 6 feet of an infected student (laboratory-confirmed or a clinically compatible illness) where:
      • both students were engaged in consistent and correct use of well-fitting face masks; and
      • other K–12 school prevention strategies (such as universal and correct mask use, physical distancing, increased ventilation) were in place in the K–12 school setting.
    • This exception does not apply to teachers, staff, or other adults in the indoor classroom setting.

Sports and Extracurricular Activities

  • Per the CDC guidance, individuals who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear masks or physically distance when participating in sports and extracurricular activities.
  • CDC recommends K-12 schools implement prevention strategies, including masking and physical distancing, during sports and extracurricular activities for those who participate and are not fully vaccinated.
  • The CDC recommends that schools consider screening testing for those participating in sports who are not fully vaccinated to facilitate safe participation and reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19. The CDC's Screening Testing Recommendations for K-12 Schools by Level of Community Transmission provides recommendations for screening testing by level of community transmission. As outlined in the table, when a community exhibits a high level of community transmission, the CDC recommends canceling or holding high-risk sports or extracurricular activities virtually to protect in-person learning, unless all participants are fully vaccinated.

* In alignment with CDC guidance, categories for level of community transmission include low, moderate, substantial, and high. School leaders and communities can use the CDC's COVID-19 Data Tracker to determine the level of community transmission in their county.