CDC school guidelines: Health officials release new considerations as US schools begin to open amid COVID-19 pandemic

As communities throughout the United States start to open schools again, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out new considerations Tuesday amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to guide their safe reopening.

The CDC made clear the considerations are meant to supplement -- not replace -- any state, local or other regulations with which schools must comply.

Health officials reiterated that the more people a student or staff member interacts with, and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread.

The risk of COVID-19 spread increases in school settings as follows:

  • Lowest Risk: Students and teachers engage in virtual-only classes, activities and events.

  • More Risk: Small, in-person classes, activities and events. Groups of students stay together and with the same teacher throughout/across school days and groups do not mix. Students remain at least 6 feet apart and do not share objects.

  • Highest Risk: Full-sized, in-person classes, activities and events. Students are not spaced apart, share classroom materials or supplies and mix between classes and activities.


  • COVID-19 is mostly spread by respiratory droplets released when people talk, cough or sneeze. It is thought that the virus may spread to hands from a contaminated surface and then to the nose or mouth, causing infection, the CDC said. Therefore, personal prevention practices (such as handwashing, staying home when sick) and cleaning and disinfecting are important.

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    Schools should also encourage behaviors that reduce the spread of COVID-19. That includes educating staff and families about the following items:

  • Staying home when appropriate

  • Hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette

  • - Teach and reinforce handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use of hand sanitizer
    - Encourage covering coughs and sneezes
  • Cloth face coverings

  • - Teach and reinforce use of cloth face coverings. Face coverings may be challenging for students (especially younger students) to wear in all-day settings such as school. Face coverings should be worn by staff and students (particularly older students) as feasible, and are most essential in times when physical distancing is difficult. Individuals should be frequently reminded not to touch the face covering and to wash their hands frequently. Information should be provided to staff, students and students' families on proper use, removal and washing of cloth face coverings.
    - Cloth face coverings are meant to protect other people in case the wearer is unknowingly infected but does not have symptoms.
  • Support healthy hygiene with adequate supplies

  • Post visible signs, broadcast announcements about healthy practices


  • The CDC suggested ensuring frequently touched surfaces, both in the classroom and in transport vehicles, are regularly disinfected and that outdoor air is circulated as much as possible.

    Students' desks should be at least 6 feet apart, when possible. Those desks should be facing the same direction or students should only sit on one side of tables, spaced apart. Students should also be spaced out on buses.

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    The government agency even suggests installing physical barriers, such as sneeze guards and partitions, particularly in areas where it is difficult for individuals to remain at least 6 feet apart and providing physical guides, such as tape on floors or sidewalks and signs on walls, to ensure that staff and children remain at least 6 feet apart in lines and at other times.

    Communal spaces, like dining halls and playgrounds, should be closed, if possible. Or use should be staggered. Have children bring their own meals as feasible, or serve individually plated meals in classrooms instead of in a communal dining hall or cafeteria, the CDC said. Disposable foodservice items should also be used.

    Schools also might have to offer different options for students and staff at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

    Virtual group events, rather than field trips should be pursued, and any sports activities should be held with caution.

    Staggered arrival and drop-off times or locations could help limit contact among different student groups, health officials said.

    Schools should also prepare for when someone gets sick:
  • Advise staff and families of sick students of home isolation criteria

  • Isolate and transport those who are sick

  • Clean and disinfect

  • Notify health officials and close contacts


  • Read the full CDC guidelines here: cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/schools.html.
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