CDPHE, CDE and the Governor’s Office worked together to develop this guidance for Local Public Health agencies (LPHAs) and districts as they develop school plans. The guidance has been drafted in light of evolving scientific knowledge about the spread of COVID-19 among children and in schools, as well as real-world disease control knowledge acquired through months of experience at the state and local level. Input has been solicited from both internal and external stakeholders, and their invaluable comments and suggestions have been instrumental in developing practical, broadly applicable guidance.
Maximize in-person learning in as safe and healthy way as possible.
Ensure a reasonable level of safety for students and staff for in-person learning.
Minimize disruptions to education by facilitating timely responses to COVID-19 through cohorting students and staff when possible, screening for symptomatic individuals, and coordinating closely with local and state public health agencies.
Ensure equity in educational opportunity by considering learning and health needs of all students, including those with varying health conditions, economic backgrounds, language skills, or educational needs.
Encourage flexibility, adaptation, and innovation as schools develop novel approaches to disease control appropriate to local contexts and as scientific knowledge about COVID-19 transmission and control develops.
Global COVID-19 evidence suggests that younger children play a smaller role in onward transmission of COVID-91. The risk of transmission between young children and from young children to adults is lower, than the risk of transmission to adults between or from older children and adults. The risk to children is likely lower than that of yearly influenza, accounting for both primary disease and Multisystem Inflammatory Disease in Children (MIS-C). This is why kindergarten and elementary schools should have different guidelines than secondary schools.
The risk of transmission between children and from children to adults is low, and the risk of transmission to adults is greater from other adults with either symptomatic or asymptomatic infection. Therefore, the most important limit to classroom size for adults is the number of adults required to be in close proximity.
Given the limited role young children likely play in transmission, there likely is minimal benefit relative to the great difficulty of physical distancing young children within a class to prevent COVID-19 spread. (American Academy of Pediatrics) Moreover, physical distancing has the potential to negatively impact appropriate child development in this age group. Therefore, focus should be placed on other risk mitigation strategies that better complement the learning and socialization goals of children up through 5th grade. In secondary schools there is likely a greater impact of physical distancing on risk reduction of COVID-19.
Cohorting significantly reduces the number of students and staff who will need to be excluded in the event of a case of COVID-19 in a school by limiting the number of close contacts of each individual (all of whom will need to be quarantined up to 14 days if they have close contact with a case). Considerations about the number of close contacts should be included in decisions about transportation and activities as well.
For COVID-19, a close contact is defined as any individual who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes, starting from 2 days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, 2 days prior to positive specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated.
However, members of the same classroom cohort may be considered “close contacts,” even if desk spacing is greater than 6-foot.