As district leaders prepare for a fourth pandemic school year, the California Department of Public Health has issued guidance aimed at keeping schools open while mitigating COVID-19 risk.
Noting that school closures should be a last resort, the department said “disease management strategies in K-12 schools are guided by the principle that safe, in-person learning is critical to student well-being and development.”
The guidance and suggested precautions, effective July 1, come as a new wave of infections emerges and omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 become increasingly dominant in the U.S.
Schools should consider using antigen tests for detecting COVID-19 instead of primarily relying on PCR tests, the California agency said. Additionally, it said students and staff should get tested before they return to school after major vacation breaks.
If a student is diagnosed with COVID-19, they should stay home for at least five days and wear a well-fitting mask for 10 days around others, especially in indoor spaces, according to the department.
But overall, temporary school or classroom closures due to a COVID-19 outbreak “should remain a last resort and considered only after all available resources have been exhausted, and only after conferring with local health officials,” the agency said.
The California department encouraged K-12 leaders to review statutory requirements on vaccinations for entry into schools. In addition, it recommended that everyone eligible get vaccinated against COVID-19 and stay up-to-date on those shots.
Leaders should also look at ways to improve indoor air quality through effective ventilation and filtration, which can help prevent the spread of COVID-19.