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Recommendations for Pre-K to 12 Schools Following Identification of a Case(s) of COVID-19

This page was updated March 30, 2021. 

These updates go into effect on Monday, April 5 for Pennsylvania's school communities.  

To address school leaders’ need for additional guidance in responding to COVID-19 cases in a school setting, the Pennsylvania Departments of Health (DOH) and Education (PDE) are providing recommendations to Pre-K to 12 schools for use in consultation with public health staff when making decisions related to school procedures following a case of COVID-19 in a school.

When a case of COVID-19 is identified in a school setting, public health staff from DOH or the County or Municipal Health Department (CMHD) will work with school administrators to provide guidance and advice related to cleaning and disinfecting, contact tracing and quarantine recommendations, and closing certain areas of the school or entire school buildings if necessary. When entire school buildings are recommended to close, lengths of closure time will vary by level of community transmission and number of cases. If it is recommended that a school building close due to a COVID-19 case(s), schools do not need approval from the DOH or CMHD to reopen the school building after the temporary closure. Schools within a CMHD jurisdiction should work with their local health department when responding to cases of COVID-19 in a school setting. This allows public health staff the necessary time to complete case investigations and contact tracing, and to provide schools with other appropriate public health advice like cleaning and disinfecting.

The recommendations provided in the chart below complement the recommendations from DOH and PDE for Determining Instructional Models During the COVID-19 Pandemic and the Public Health Guidance for School Communities. The recommendations apply to individual schools, not an entire school district or Local Education Agency (LEA).

Recommendations for Small (<500 students and staff) Pre-K to 12 School Buildings Following Identification of a Case(s) of COVID-19

It is important to note that a significant and/or widespread outbreak may require moving to a more remote-based instructional model more quickly. DOH will provide proactive consultative assistance to school entities should such an outbreak occur.

Level of Community Transmission in the County
Number of Cases of COVID-19 Within a Rolling 14-Day Period:

1 student or 1 staff
Number of Cases of COVID-19 Within a Rolling 14-Day Period:

2-4 students/staff
in same school building
Number of Cases of COVID-19 Within a Rolling 14-Day Period:

5+ students/staff
in same school building
Low
  • School does not need to close
  • Clean area(s) where case spent time
  • Public health staff will direct close contacts to quarantine

  • Close school(s) for 1-2 days*
  • Clean area(s) where cases spent time
  • Public health staff will direct close contacts to quarantine
  • Close school(s) for 5 days*
  • Clean entire school(s)
  • Public health staff will direct close contacts to quarantine
Moderate
  • School does not need to close
  • Clean area(s) where case spent time
  • Public health staff will direct close contacts to quarantine
  • Close school(s) for 1-2 days*
  • Clean area(s) where cases spent time
  • Public health staff will direct close contacts to quarantine
  • Close school(s) for 5 days*
  • Clean entire school(s)
  • Public health staff will direct close contacts to quarantine
Substantial
  • School should consider altering schedule to significantly decrease number of students on site
  • Clean area(s) where case spent time
  • Public health staff will direct close contacts to quarantine
  • School should consider altering schedule to significantly decrease number of students on site
  • Close school(s) for 2-3 days*
  • Clean area(s) where cases spent time
  • Public health staff will direct close contacts to quarantine
  • School should consider altering schedule to significantly decrease number of students on site
  • Close school(s) for 5 days*
  • Clean entire school
  • Public health staff will direct close contacts to quarantine

*If case investigations, contact tracing, and cleaning and disinfecting can be accomplished in a faster time frame, the length of closure time may be shortened.

DOH and PDE recommend a Blended Learning Model for Elementary Only or a Full Remote Learning Model for all schools in counties with substantial level of community transmission. Schools that choose to pursue in-person instruction or other models in which school buildings are utilized by students and/or staff should follow the recommendations here.

Recommendations for Medium (500-900 students and staff) Pre-K to 12 School Buildings Following Identification of a Case(s) of COVID-19

It is important to note that a significant and/or widespread outbreak may require moving to a more remote-based instructional model more quickly. DOH will provide proactive consultative assistance to school entities should such an outbreak occur.

Level of Community Transmission in the County
Number of Cases of COVID-19 Within a Rolling 14-Day Period:

1-3 students or staff
Number of Cases of COVID-19 Within a Rolling 14-Day Period:

4-6 students/staff
in same school building 
Number of Cases of COVID-19 Within a Rolling 14-Day Period:

7+ students/staff
in same school building
Low
  • School does not need to close
  • Clean area(s) where case spent time
  • Public health staff will direct close contacts to quarantine
  • Close school(s) for 1-2 days*
  • Clean area(s) where cases spent time
  • Public health staff will direct close contacts to quarantine
  • Close school(s) for 5 days*
  • Clean entire school(s)
  • Public health staff will direct close contacts to quarantine

Moderate
  • School does not need to close
  • Clean area(s) where case spent time
  • Public health staff will direct close contacts to quarantine
  • Close school(s) for 1-2 days*
  • Clean area(s) where cases spent time
  • Public health staff will direct close contacts to quarantine
  • Close school(s) for 5 days*
  • Clean entire school(s)
  • Public health staff will direct close contacts to quarantine
Substantial
  • School should consider altering schedule to significantly decrease number of students on site
  • Clean area(s) where case spent time
  • Public health staff will direct close contacts to quarantine

  • School should consider altering schedule to significantly decrease number of students on site
  • Close school(s) for 2-3 days*
  • Clean area(s) where cases spent time
  • Public health staff will direct close contacts to quarantine
  • School should consider altering schedule to significantly decrease number of students on site
  • Close school(s) for 5 days*
  • Clean entire school
  • Public health staff will direct close contacts to quarantine

*If case investigations, contact tracing, and cleaning and disinfecting can be accomplished in a faster time frame, the length of closure time may be shortened.

DOH and PDE recommend a Blended Learning Model for Elementary Only or a Full Remote Learning Model for all schools in counties with substantial level of community transmission. Schools that choose to pursue in-person instruction or other models in which school buildings are utilized by students and/or staff should follow the recommendations here.

Recommendations for Large (>900 students and staff) Pre-K to 12 School Buildings Following Identification of a Case(s) of COVID-19

It is important to note that a significant and/or widespread outbreak may require moving to a more remote-based instructional model more quickly. DOH will provide proactive consultative assistance to school entities should such an outbreak occur.

Level of Community Transmission in the County
Number of Cases of COVID-19 Within a Rolling 14-Day Period:

1-5 students or staff
Number of Cases of COVID-19 Within a Rolling 14-Day Period:

6-10 students/staff in same school building 
Number of Cases of COVID-19 Within a Rolling 14-Day Period:

11+ students/staff
in same school building
Low
  • School does not need to close
  • Clean area(s) where case spent time
  • Public health staff will direct close contacts to quarantine
  • Close school(s) for 1-2 days*
  • Clean area(s) where cases spent time
  • Public health staff will direct close contacts to quarantine
  • Close school(s) for 5 days*
  • Clean entire school(s)
  • Public health staff will direct close contacts to quarantine

Moderate
  • School does not need to close
  • Clean area(s) where case spent time
  • Public health staff will direct close contacts to quarantine
  • Close school(s) for 1-2 days*
  • Clean area(s) where cases spent time
  • Public health staff will direct close contacts to quarantine
  • Close school(s) for 5 days*
  • Clean entire school(s)
  • Public health staff will direct close contacts to quarantine

Substantial
  • School should consider altering schedule to significantly decrease number of students on site
  • Clean area(s) where case spent time
  • Public health staff will direct close contacts to quarantine

  • School should consider altering schedule to significantly decrease number of students on site
  • Close school(s) for 2-3 days*
  • Clean area(s) where cases spent time
  • Public health staff will direct close contacts to quarantine
  • School should consider altering schedule to significantly decrease number of students on site
  • Close school(s) for 5 days*
  • Clean entire school
  • Public health staff will direct close contacts to quarantine

*If case investigations, contact tracing, and cleaning and disinfecting can be accomplished in a faster time frame, the length of closure time may be shortened.

DOH and PDE recommend a Blended Learning Model for Elementary Only or Full Remote Learning Model for all schools in counties with substantial level of community transmission. Schools that choose to pursue in-person instruction or other models in which school-buildings are utilized by students and/or staff should follow the recommendations here.

What is case investigation, contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine?

Public health staff is responsible for case investigation and contact tracing for every case of COVID-19, regardless of level of community transmission or number of cases identified in a school setting. Refer to DOH's Contact Tracing Frequently Asked Questions for a complete overview of the case investigation and contact tracing process. 

Cases are people who have been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) case definition for COVID-19 includes confirmed and probable cases.

Isolation is when the public health staff direct cases to stay home, in a hospital, or in a care facility to ensure they do not expose others with COVID-19.  Individuals who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 should be immediately isolated while waiting for test results. Public health staff handles case investigation steps including determining close contacts during the infectious period.

Close contacts are individuals who have been exposed (within 6 feet distance for at least 15 consecutive minutes) to someone who is a case during the infectious period, and it is unknown if the contact will go on to develop COVID-19. See DOH Health Alert Network (HAN) 533 for more information on determining a close contact. Public health staff determine close contacts after a case interview. In some school situations, it might be difficult to determine whether individuals are contacts or whether an entire cohort, classroom, or other group (extracurricular activity members) might need to be considered exposed, particularly if people have spent time together indoors.

Public health staff will work with school administrators to determine whether entire classrooms or other cohort groups need to be quarantined. Based on these discussions, public health staff will direct close contacts to quarantine for up to 14 days from the last exposure to the case; this includes household contacts (like siblings and parents/guardians/caregivers) who attend or work in other schools. See DOH Health Alert Network (HAN) 559 for more information on quarantine recommendations after exposure to COVID-19 and HAN 562 for quarantine recommendations after an antigen test.  

What are the recommendations for cleaning and disinfecting in a school setting?

Schools should close off all areas used by a case and not use those areas again until after cleaning and disinfecting. This may include a classroom, common areas used by the case(s) such as lunchrooms and restrooms, gyms and locker rooms, school transportation options like a bus or van, and in some cases, the entire school building. Students should not be present when disinfectants are being used and should not participate in disinfecting activities.

To protect the health of janitorial and cleaning staff, schools should wait at least 24 hours before cleaning and disinfecting. If 24 hours is not feasible, wait as long as possible. Ensure safe and correct use and storage of cleaning and disinfection products, including storing products securely away from children. More information on cleaning and disinfecting is available in the DOH and PDE Public Health Guidance for School Communities.

What should schools do when a student or staff present symptoms of COVID-19 but are not a confirmed case?

It is not necessary to notify DOH or CMHD staff of every symptomatic student or staff member, since many non-COVID-19 illnesses may present with similar symptoms. School administrators should contact DOH or CMHD for further guidance if a parent/guardian/caregiver notifies the school of potential exposure by a student, staff member, or school visitor. Refer to the DOH and PDE COVID-19 Symptomatic K-12 Student or Staff Process Flow (PDF) for steps schools should take when a student or staff present with symptoms of COVID-19 but are not a confirmed case.

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

What is the rolling 14-day period?

The rolling 14-day period begins with the date of the first positive case, which is either the date the individual was first symptomatic (if known) or the date the individual was tested. 

For example, if a student is identified as a case on December 1, and three more students in the building are identified as cases on December 13, there are four total cases in the school’s rolling 14-day period until December 14 (14 days from the date that the first student was identified as a case). The other three students then would remain in the rolling 14-day period until December 26 (14 days from December 13).

What students/staff members are included in a school building’s rolling 14-day period?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) case definition for COVID-19 includes both confirmed and probable cases. Therefore, the case count for a school building would include any individual (students or staff) with a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19 who was physically present in the school setting while infectious, including but not limited to, instruction, work, sports, or extracurricular activities.  

Cases that are identified as part of a cluster (i.e., team, band, or household) should each be included individually in the 14-day case count, because case investigation, contact tracing and cleaning must be conducted for each individual person, regardless of how or where the exposure occurred.

NOTE: Cases and close contacts excused from school must complete their isolation or quarantine period regardless of how long the school building may be closed.

If a student engaged in full remote learning is diagnosed with COVID-19, does this student count toward the total number of cases in a school? 

No. The case count for a school building includes only individuals (students or staff) with a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19 who were physically present in the school setting while infectious, including, but not limited to, instruction, work, sports, or extracurricular activities. 

When does a school building’s case count reset? 

The case count resets after the period that the school building is closed consistent with the DOH/PDE guidance on recommended procedures following a case of COVID-19 in a school building. This closure allows time for case investigations, contact tracing, and cleaning and disinfecting to be accomplished prior to the building reopening. In other words, the rolling 14-day period restarts with the first new case – after the school building reopens. 

NOTE: Cases and close contacts excused from school must complete their isolation or quarantine period regardless of how long the school building may be closed.

If we are coming off a holiday break and have cases over the holidays, do we start new with the rolling 14-day window or do we count these cases from over the holidays?

Only individuals who are physically present in the school setting while infectious count toward the number of cases in a school.

NOTE: Cases and close contacts that occur over the holidays must complete their isolation or quarantine period prior to returning to the school building.

If a school building meets the case thresholds to temporarily close, can any student population still attend in person? 

When building closure is required, the school must suspend all in-person instruction in that building. This allows public health staff the necessary time to complete case investigations and contact tracing, and to provide the school with other appropriate public health advice like cleaning and disinfecting.

When should a school building temporarily close as outlined in the procedures following a case of COVID-19 in a school building?

When a school reaches any of the case thresholds, the school building is to close consistent with DOH’s procedures following a case of COVID-19 in a school building. School administrators should contact public health staff from DOH or the County or Municipal Health Department (CMHD) who will provide guidance and advice related to cleaning and disinfecting, contact tracing and quarantine recommendations, number of days of actual closure and/or the closing of certain areas of the school or entire school buildings, if necessary. 

Public health staff from DOH or CMHD are available to advise and provide guidance to schools following the identification of a COVID-19 case(s). However, schools do not need approval from DOH or CMHD to reopen a school building after a temporary closure due to a COVID-19 case(s).

How do we determine building size?

Building size is based on the number of students and staff who would be attending school in the building if not for the pandemic. Building size should not be based on the number of the students in the building when the case occurs or at the time of temporary closure.

For example, if there are 750 students and staff enrolled in the middle school this year, the building size is medium.

*The “Recommendations for Pre-K to 12 Schools following Identification of a Case(s) of COVID-19” guidance (the “matrix”) states that lengths of closure may be shortened “if case investigations, contact tracing, and cleaning and disinfecting can be accomplished in a faster time frame.” I have completed cleaning and provided information to DOH, can my school immediately reopen?

If your district is served only by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, no. At present, given the continued high volume of COVID-19 cases across the Commonwealth, the Department of Health is unable to complete the public health protocols of contact tracing and case investigation faster than what is indicated in the matrix. As such, schools in a District served by the Department of Health should not close for a shorter time than specified in the matrix.

Schools within a county or municipal health department (CMHD) jurisdiction should work with their local health department when responding to cases of COVID-19 in a school setting, to determine whether they have capacity to complete necessary case investigation and contact tracing in a shorter timeframe.