K-12 School Recommendations
Our goal is to keep children healthy while attending school in-person.
The Utah Department of Health recommends a layered prevention approach consistent with the Utah COVID-19 Disease Plan and CDC school guidelines to minimize the impact of COVID-19 exposures and outbreaks in school settings and maximize opportunities for children to participate in in-school learning and extracurricular activities.
COVID-19 can severely disrupt learning, school attendance, and involvement in extracurricular activities. Children can and do get COVID-19 and are at risk for severe illness from the virus. Even with mild illness, children can spread the virus to other people. This is why using layered prevention strategies in schools are so important.
Local health departments and local education agencies (LEAs) are reviewing the following recommendations to create layered prevention strategies so children can return safely to full-time, in-person school. Local health departments and LEAs will work together, using local data, to identify which recommended quarantine and protective measures to use to protect the health of K-12 students and school staff in their area. School administrators will watch the data on what is happening in their local areas as they work to keep children in schools as safely as possible.
Parents and school staff who have questions about how COVID-19 will be handled in their school or at extracurricular activities should contact their local health department or school for more information.
The UDOH strongly recommends the following layered prevention strategies in K-12 schools:
- Encouraging everyone 12 years and older to get vaccinated for COVID-19
- Wearing a mask when indoors
- Isolating at home if you test positive for COVID-19
- Quarantine and other protective measures after a school exposure
- Testing for COVID-19
- Staying home when you’re sick
- Physical distancing and cohorting
- Improving or increasing indoor ventilation
- Hygiene practices
- Cleaning and disinfection
Vaccination for COVID-19 is not required for students to attend K-12 public school or participate in extracurricular activities. However, vaccination is the best way to keep our children safe and healthy in school and free from the disruptions to their learning and extracurricular activities that we experienced last school year.
Students and school staff who are fully vaccinated can continue in-person learning and participate in extracurricular activities, even if they are exposed to COVID-19.
You are considered fully immune, or protected from the virus, 2 weeks after your final dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
- Two-dose vaccines: 2 weeks after the 2nd shot (you need both shots to be fully protected).
- One-dose vaccines: 2 weeks after shot (you only need one shot to be fully protected).
This means you don’t have to quarantine if it has been 2 weeks since your final shot, even if you are exposed to someone who tests positive.
You do NOT need to wait 90-days after testing positive to get vaccinated. You can get vaccinated as soon as you are no longer in isolation or quarantine and don’t have any symptoms of COVID-19.
Encouraging all school staff and students 12 years and older to be vaccinated against COVID-19 is an important prevention strategy. We ask all Utahns to carefully consider getting vaccinated and to seek out credible information about the vaccines from their healthcare provider and reputable health organizations. The vast majority of all COVID-19 deaths, hospitalizations, and cases in Utah are happening to people who are not vaccinated. It’s important for parents to talk to their child’s trusted healthcare provider if they have questions or concerns about vaccinations.
COVID-19 vaccinations are FREE and available to anyone 12 and older. The Pfizer vaccine is the only COVID-19 vaccine authorized for children 12 to 17 years old. All three vaccines, Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccines are authorized for people ages 18 and older.
There is clear scientific evidence that wearing a face mask reduces the spread of COVID-19. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC recommend everyone in a school wear a mask at this time, whether or not they are fully vaccinated. The CDC also recommends all people, even if they are vaccinated, wear a mask indoors if they live in an area with high transmission.
Parents may always choose to have their child wear a mask at school if they want. In areas where there is no mask requirement, the decision to wear a mask at school remains optional.
Utah law outlines the process for health departments to establish mask requirements if needed. Utah law prohibits a “local education agency, an LEA governing board, the state board, the state superintendent, or a school from requiring face masks to attend or participate in in-person instruction, LEA-sponsored athletics, LEA-sponsored extracurricular activities, or in any other place on the campus of a school or school facility.” A health department could issue an order requiring masks in schools; however, the Legislature has set forth a process that must be followed which requires approval from the state or county elected officials as well as a 30-day limit on the order. The law also allows the Legislature or elected county officials to overturn an order at any time.
Isolate at home if you test positive for COVID-19
Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 should isolate right away.
You should isolate right away if you test positive for COVID-19, even if you are fully vaccinated. This means to stay home except to get medical care. You should not go to school, work, church, group gatherings, or extracurricular activities.
If you’ve tested positive, you should isolate until you have been:
- Fever-free for 24 hours, and
- Your respiratory symptoms have improved for 24 hours, and
- It has been at least 10 days since you first got sick.
- If you did not have symptoms, you should isolate for 10 days from the day you were tested.
You are infectious and can spread the virus to others starting up to 2 days before you first had symptoms until your isolation period is over. If you never had symptoms, you are infectious starting 2 days before the day you were tested for COVID-19.
- Anyone who is not fully vaccinated and came into close contact with you during this time should quarantine.
- Close contact means you were closer than 6 feet or 2 meters (about 2 arm lengths) to a person who has COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or longer in a 24-hour period while they were infectious.
- If you test positive for COVID-19, anyone who lives in your home and is not fully vaccinated should quarantine for 10 days from the last time they were in close contact with you during isolation.
A public health worker will also try to contact you by phone, text, or email if you test positive to conduct a case investigation. Sometimes people call this contact tracing.
Quarantine recommendations after a school exposure
If you are exposed to someone at school who tests positive for COVID-19, you can continue to come to school if:
You are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 (2 weeks after your final dose), or
You and the person who tested positive were both wearing masks, or
You have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 90 days.
Standard quarantine protocol
For anyone who does not meet the criteria above, the standard protocol after an exposure is to quarantine. Quarantine at home if you are exposed to COVID-19 and are not fully vaccinated. We consider anyone who was within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes, to be exposed. You should not go to school, work, church, group gatherings, or extracurricular activities. Isolate and get tested if you get symptoms of COVID-19 after you were exposed, even if you are fully vaccinated or recently had COVID.
Under the standard quarantine protocol, you can end quarantine:
- On day 10 without testing. You can end quarantine 10 days after the last time you had close contact with the person who tested positive if you don’t have symptoms of COVID-19.
- On day 7 with a negative test result. You must wait at least 7 days after your exposure to be tested. You can end quarantine if your test is negative and you do not have any symptoms of COVID-19.
Although you can end quarantine after day 10 if you don’t have symptoms or after day 7 if you test negative, you still need to take safety precautions and watch for symptoms for 14 days after you were exposed.
The best ways to stop diseases from spreading in schools or throughout our communities are for everyone to be vaccinated and for those who have the disease⏤or have been exposed to the disease⏤to quarantine or isolate at home until they can no longer get other people sick.
Other quarantine options for schools
It may be difficult for some students and families to quarantine at home for 10 days. It may also be hard to know who in a classroom was exposed. In order to support in person education while still trying to keep children and families healthy, options regarding K-12 school exposures have been developed. Local health departments and local education agencies (LEAs) may choose to offer other options to help students or staff who have been exposed to COVID-19 and may not be able to quarantine at home, while still protecting the other students and staff in the school.
Local health departments and LEAs will decide which quarantine options are recommended in their area. Recommendations may be different across the state.
Some local health departments and LEAs may have more than one option for students and staff who are exposed to COVID-19:
- Quarantine at home for 10 days.
- Quarantine at home for 7 days and then get tested. If you test negative and do not have any symptoms of COVID-19, you can return to school.
- Wear a mask at school for 10 days.
- Wear a mask at school for 7 days and then get tested. If you test negative on day 7 you don’t have to wear a mask anymore.
Quarantine at home for
10 days, or
Quarantine at home for 7 days and then get tested. If you test negative and don’t have symptoms on day 7 you can go back to school, or
Wear a mask at school for
10 days, or
Wear a mask at school for
7 days and then get tested.
If you test negative, you don’t have to wear a mask anymore.
No matter which option is chosen, if you get symptoms of COVID-19 after being exposed to someone who tested positive, isolate right away, call a healthcare provider, and get tested, even if your symptoms are mild or you have been vaccinated.
Exposure to COVID-19 at home
While this section provides recommendations and options for school exposures, recommendations for exposures at home have not changed.
If you are not fully vaccinated and live with someone who has COVID-19, you should quarantine at home for 10 days, even if you don’t have symptoms or test negative. You are at a much higher risk of getting infected with the virus. It can be very hard to stay isolated from people who have COVID-19 and live in your home. This means you may need to quarantine longer than 10 days if you can’t stay away from the person who was sick. Every time you come into close contact with the person who tested positive while they are infectious, your 10-day quarantine starts over because you were exposed to the virus
Testing for COVID-19
Anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19 should get tested.
You should not attend school or participate in extracurricular activities if you have symptoms of COVID-19. If you get symptoms of COVID-19, isolate right away, call a healthcare provider, and get tested for COVID-19, even if your symptoms are mild.
If you are fully vaccinated and get symptoms of COVID-19, isolate right away and call a healthcare provider. Your doctor will decide if you need to be tested or if your health condition may be something else.
Stay home while you wait for your COVID-19 test results.
Anyone who is exposed to COVID-19 should get tested.
Get tested if you came into close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Stay home or follow your school’s quarantine options while you wait for your COVID-19 test results. You must finish your quarantine option even if your test results are negative and you don’t feel sick.
If you are fully vaccinated and get symptoms of COVID-19 after your exposure, isolate right away and call a healthcare provider. Your doctor will decide if you need to be tested or if your health condition may be something else.
You do not need to get tested if you’ve had COVID-19 within the last 90 days and are exposed to COVID-19 again, unless you get new symptoms. If you get new symptoms, isolate and call a healthcare provider. You may need to get tested for COVID-19.
Test to Stay
Senate Bill 107 requires schools to do a Test to Stay event when:
- Schools with 1,500 or more students have 2% of their students test positive for COVID-19.
- Schools with fewer than 1,500 students have 30 students test positive for COVID-19.
At the request of LEAs, the Utah Department of Health can provide guidance and support to conduct Test to Stay events.
Help conducting a testing event
The Utah Department of Health provides training resources for schools on how to complete a testing event at https://coronavirus.utah.gov/school-training. At the request of LEAs, the Utah Department of Health also helps conduct testing events:
- Entire testing event (pre-registration, testing, and reporting). The school only needs to provide the location, time, and staff to help direct those getting tested.
- Testing (swabbers) only. The school does the pre-registration and reporting.
- On-site technical assistance for reporting and registration. The school does the testing and pre-registration.
When a school meets the Test to Stay thresholds, the LEAs in consultation with the local health department will work together to offer testing for all students and staff.
- Students and staff who tested positive for COVID-19 within 90 days do NOT have to participate in Test to Stay. If it has been longer than 90 days since they tested positive, they should participate in Test to Stay.
- Students and staff who are fully vaccinated do NOT have to participate in Test to Stay. A person is fully vaccinated if it has been 2 weeks since their final dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Schools must get parental permission prior to testing.
Before a COVID-19 test is administered to a student, the school must get written permission from the student’s parent or guardian. Schools should clearly state on the permission document whether parents are giving permission to test a student for the duration of the school year, or if the student’s testing is for a specific event (for example, Test to Stay protocols). This helps the school move quickly to hold a testing event if the outbreak threshold is met and prevent disruptions to in-classroom learning. Schools may choose to get permission from parents during each term instead of one time for the entire school year, but should not ask for permission more than once every term. A parent may revoke permission for their student’s participation in testing events at any time during the school year by notifying the school in writing.
Schools will determine when and how to offer COVID-19 testing to students and school staff. All test results must be reported to the Utah Department of Health. Schools need to be familiar with the limitations of antigen testing.
Students who are tested as part of Test to Stay:
- Must isolate at home if they test positive, even if they had symptoms before the test or are fully vaccinated. They may return to in-person learning after they are done with their isolation period.
- May continue in-person learning if they test negative, are not a close contact of a person who tests positive, and do not have any symptoms of COVID-19.
There may be situations where students with special healthcare needs may be unable to participate in testing because of physical, mental, or behavioral limitations. Parents should work with their child’s healthcare provider and the school to see if accommodations are possible in these situations, such as using a saliva PCR test instead of a nasal swab test. In rare circumstances, a student who is unable to participate in the Test to Stay event, or is unable to use a different type of test, may be allowed to attend school. Parents of children with special healthcare needs should make this request to the school. Parents may wish to talk with their child’s healthcare provider, the school nurse, or local health department when making this decision. Parents and the school should consider the following circumstances when deciding if a student returns to in-person learning without being tested:
- If strict prevention measures can be taken, including mask wearing by the student, teachers, and the student’s other classmates.
- The student’s IEP or 504 plan services would be significantly disrupted if the student was moved to remote or virtual learning.
- The student attends school in a self-contained unit, away from the general student population.
Stay home when you’re sick
Anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19 should stay home and get tested.
Do not attend school or participate in extracurricular activities if you have symptoms of COVID-19. Isolate at home, call a healthcare provider, and get tested for COVID-19 right away, even if your symptoms are mild. Symptoms of COVID-19 may look like other common illnesses, like strep throat, colds, flu, or allergies.
If you are fully vaccinated and get symptoms of COVID-19, isolate right away and call a healthcare provider. Your doctor will decide if you need to be tested or if your health condition may be something else. Being vaccinated will not make you test positive for COVID-19. This means if you test positive after you are vaccinated, you have COVID-19 and can spread the virus to others. This is rare, but can happen.
Physical distancing and cohorting
Schools should implement physical distancing as much as possible to protect children who are too young to be vaccinated. This means to stay at least 6 feet (2 meters) away from other people who are not fully vaccinated. However, studies showed physical distancing of only 3 feet in a classroom can be effective when other prevention measures are taken, including mask wearing.
Cohorting (or forming “pods”) can also help reduce the chance of being exposed to COVID-19, especially when it’s hard to maintain physical distancing in the classroom. Cohorting keeps groups of students, and sometimes teachers or employees, together throughout the school day. Schools are responsible for making sure cohorting is done in an equitable manner.
Good hygiene practices are some of the best ways to fight any illness. This includes COVID-19.
- Try not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
- Wash your hands often for 20 seconds with soap and water. If you do not have soap and water, use hand sanitizer that has at least 60% alcohol.
- Cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue. Do not use your hands.
- Do not shake hands or touch other people. Use other ways to greet people without touching.
- Try not to touch surfaces many people touch.
Use products in EPA List N to clean and disinfect surfaces every day that are touched often.
Cleaning and disinfection
Cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting prevent the spread of COVID-19. Wait 24 hours to clean and disinfect the school or classroom after someone has tested positive for COVID-19.
State legislation that will impact the 2021-2022 school year
There are several state laws that will impact how LEAs and health departments respond to COVID-19 during the upcoming school year. A brief summary of these laws is provided below. There may be other local, state, or federal laws and regulations that impact schools during the pandemic. Local officials should consult with their own legal counsel for advice on how these or other laws and regulations impact strategies to prevent COVID-19 in K-12 schools.
- All schools in Utah are required to have at least 4 days of in-person instruction per week.
- Test to Stay is required in K-12 schools. Testing events should be done in coordination with the local health department and are required to take place when a certain number of students test positive for COVID-19 in a 14-day window. Schools can request assistance from the Utah Department of Health for Test to Stay events.
- The Governor and Utah Department of Health must provide 24-hour notice to the Legislature before declaring a Public Health Emergency or issuing an Order of Constraint. An example of an Order of Constraint includes requiring masks to be worn by all students in schools.
- A local health department must provide 24-hour notice to their county elected officials before declaring a Public Health Emergency or issuing an Order of Constraint.
- The Legislature or elected county officials may overturn a Public Health Emergency or Order of Constraint at any time.
- There is a 30-day maximum time limit on an initial Public Health Emergency or Order of Constraint. The Legislature or elected county officials must be provided 10 days notice if the Utah Department of Health or local health department requests an extension of a Public Health Emergency.
- All new Public Health Emergencies and Orders of Constraint must follow the requirements of Senate Bill 195.
- Does not allow a local education agency, an LEA governing board, the state board, the state superintendent, or a school to require face masks to attend or participate in in-person instruction, LEA-sponsored athletics, LEA-sponsored extracurricular activities, or to be in any other place on the campus of a school or school facility.
- Does allow for a private school to require face masks.
- Does not allow an institution of higher education (like a college or university) to require a face covering to participate in or attend instruction, activities, or to be in any other place on the campus, except for a medical setting at an institution of higher education.
- A governmental entity can’t require a person to get a COVID-19 vaccine that was authorized for use under Emergency Use Authorization as a condition of employment, or to participate or attend an activity of the governmental entity.
- This restriction would not apply to a COVID-19 vaccine that receives full authorization from the FDA.
- Employees who work in a public health or medical setting can be required to receive COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use under Emergency Use Authorization.
- Does not allow funding appropriated by the Legislature to be used for financial incentives, awards, drawings or prizes, or any similar incentive to anyone for receiving a vaccination.
Everyone must help to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our schools.
Utah Department of Health
Guide and Support
- Disease plan
- Educational messaging
- Testing and vaccination resources
Local Health Departments
Relate and Respond
- Local partnerships
- Case investigations / duty to respond
- Supportive actions (e.g., testing, vaccinations)
Educate and Support
- Preventive measures
- Case reporting
- Coordination and communication
Parents and Families
Choose and Protect
- Indoor masking
Govern and Represent
- Voice of constituents
Utah’s public health system has clear direction from the Legislature to:
- Investigate and control the spread of epidemic infections and communicable diseases (26-6-3(1)).
- Work with healthcare providers, schools, and others to track positive cases (26-23b-103 and R386-702-4).
- Work with schools and communities to mitigate spread (26-1-30 and 26-6-6(8 & 9)).
- Provide guidance on when a school meets the 2% threshold of COVID-19 cases (or 30 students in schools with <1500 students) (26-6-42(3) and 53G-9-210(3)).
- As requested, work with local education agencies (LEAs) to conduct testing events (Test to Stay) when the 2% threshold is met (26-6-42(2)).
Schools (public, private, parochial nursery school, licensed or unlicensed day care center, child care facility, family care home, Head Start program, kindergarten, elementary, or secondary school through grade 12) have clear direction from the Legislature to:
- Report to the department or the local health department regarding any individual suffering from or suspected of having a disease that is communicable (26-6-6(8 & 9)).
Local education agencies (LEAs) have clear direction from the Legislature to:
- Offer in-person instruction (53G-9-210(2)).
- Require schools that reach the 2% threshold of COVID-19 cases (or 30 students in schools with <1500 students) to initiate Test to Stay (53G-9-210(2)).
- Not require face coverings to attend or participate in in-person instruction or LEA-sponsored athletics and extracurricular activities (53G-9-210(5)).