Frequently asked questions about schools and child care during COVID-19
New temporary restrictions in King County
As of January 18, 2021, all older adults in Washington state over the age of 65 are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. People 50 and older who live in multigenerational households are also eligible if they meet certain conditions. Due to limited supply of vaccine, not everyone will be able to access a vaccine right away. Access will improve as the supply chain widens and providers in King County receive more doses.
Updated Jan. 26, 2021: See #10 under Questions about Schools, new item: "Are schools allowed to host in-person standardized tests (e.g., PSAT, AP exams)?
Schools:In their decision framework, the Department of Health defines a maximum "small group" size of 15 students or fewer for in-person learning when disease activity is high."
Child care:It depends on the ages of children in the group and your licensing requirements set by DCYF. We advise you to follow the latest Washington State Dept. of Health child care guidance (see pages 6 -7).
The child with symptoms should be isolated and sent home as soon as possible. Caregivers of the sick child should contact their medical provider and get the child tested for COVID-19 as soon as possible. Siblings who are not exhibiting symptoms do not need to be quarantined or sent home at that time. The siblings can continue to attend school or child care but should monitor their health. If any symptoms arise in the siblings, they should also stay home and their caregivers should contact a healthcare provider.
If the original sick child tests positive for COVID-19, that child must stay home and isolate. At that time all household members, including the siblings, would be considered close contacts and must also quarantine (stay home, not go to work, school or child care) even if they have been vaccinated.
The Return to School Following Illness Exposure Guidance in the King County Schools COVID-19 Response Toolkit along with this infographic can help people calculate the isolation and quarantine periods for all household members. Child care programs can find more information in our Guidance for child care administrators.
The student/staff does not have to stay home from child care or school as long as they are not close contacts of the confirmed COVID-19 case. However, the household member who is the close contact of the confirmed COVID-19 case should quarantine, even if they have been vaccinated. The Return to School Following Illness Exposure Guidance in the King County Schools COVID-19 Response Toolkit along with this infographic can help people calculate the isolation and quarantine periods for all household members. Child care programs can find more information in our Guidance for child care administrators.
If the household member who is the close contact becomes symptomatic and/or tests positive for COVID-19, the student/staff would need to stay home from child care or school and begin to quarantine.
Anyone with symptoms should isolate and call a medical provider to get tested.
Neither the child/staff nor the household member need to quarantine since the household member is not considered a close contact of the confirmed COVID-19 case. The exception would be if the household member or child/staff have symptoms of COVID-19. Anyone with symptoms should isolate and call a medical provider.
Yes, children and staff sharing a household with someone with COVID-like symptoms may attend child care or school. They should monitor themselves for symptoms and, if they become sick, stay home. If their household member tests positive for COVID-19, the student or staff should stay home and also get tested.
Details about how to determine the duration of isolation and quarantine periods are available in our King County Schools COVID-19 Response Toolkit (page 9, section C.) This information is also available in the Return to School Following Illness Exposure Guidance in the toolkit. Child care programs can find more information in our Guidance for child care administrators.
Requiring tests: At this time, there is no recommendation from Public Health—Seattle & King County (PHSKC), the Washington State Department of Health (DOH), nor the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for schools to require a COVID-19 test for symptomatic children or staff. Anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms or close contact with someone who has COVID-19 should be tested right away. Schools and child cares are not disallowed from implementing more stringent health and safety requirements than those outlined by PHSKC, DOH, or CDC. However, we caution schools and child cares to consider the potential equity impacts of additional requirements such as requiring testing for students, staff, and families who may struggle to access health care.
- Symptomatic students and staff who test negative for COVID-19 must remain home (isolate) for at least 24 hours after fever has resolved and symptoms have improved.
- Ill students and staff who get tested should be encouraged to retain documentation of their test results.
- Symptomatic students and staff who do not get a COVID-19 test must remain home (isolate) for at least 24 hours after fever has resolved and 10 days since symptoms began and symptoms have improved.
Details about how to determine the duration of isolation and quarantine periods are available in our King County Schools COVID-19 Response Toolkit (page 9, section B.) This information is also available in the Return to School Following Illness Exposure Guidance in the toolkit. This is also available in our Guidance for child care administrators.
Information is available in the King County Schools COVID-19 Response Toolkit. This toolkit outlines the steps schools should take if there is a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 within their school community.
The toolkit includes guides and templates for communicating with school staff and families. Notification letter templates, fact sheets, contact tracing lists, and other materials are available. Resources are translated into multiple languages.
We update resources in the toolkit based on the needs of the community and as COVID-19 restrictions change.
The Department of Health's decision framework for reopening categorizes transmission rate into High, Moderate, and Low. Data changes daily but looking over a two-week period is a better indicator of the transmission rate. Instead of daily checks, use 2-week periods to determine your community's transmission rate.
Data on these indicators is tracked and published daily on our Key Indicators dashboard.
Public Health supports the health and safety recommendations that the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) and Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) have released for K-12 schools. While we are unable to provide detailed review of re-opening plans, we have released recommendations on our Public Health Insider blog about re-opening King County schools.
In alignment with recommendations in the DOH's decision framework, schools re-opening for in-person instruction must be able to implement strong and consistent mitigation measures AND have solid protocols and staffing in place to respond quickly and effectively if cases arise. Public health has published the King County Schools COVID-19 Response Toolkit to support K-12 schools in responding to COVID-19 cases in their buildings.
The Public Health Daily Summary data dashboard shares data on cases and transmission in King County. The data is available by age and region, but it does not specify high-risk categories, such as people with certain disabilities.
We encourage all public and private schools to follow the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) guidance on re-opening schools.
The Washington State Dept. of Health and OSPI also released a decision framework for schools considering when to open. It recommends a phased approach to in-person learning for younger learners and those with the highest needs in counties with greater than 350 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people over the past 14 days. Data on these indicators is tracked and published daily Monday through Friday on our Key Indicators dashboard.
The decision framework recommends phased in in-person learning in groups of 15 or fewer students for pre-K through grade 5 and those with highest needs, such as students with disabilities, students without a home, and students farthest from educational justice.
More information and recommendations from Public Health are available in the December 18 article on our blog, the Public Health Insider titled “Public Health--Seattle & King County Supports Local Efforts to Open Classrooms for Younger Learners”
Governor Inslee issued a proclamation requiring schools by law to implement health and safety measures, and mandating staff involvement in health and safety related decisions.
Like most public health guidance, Public Health relies on voluntary compliance through public education. Governor Inslee issued a proclamation requiring schools by law to implement health and safety measures, and mandating staff involvement in health and safety related decisions. If schools are opening while being unable to reduce the risk for in-school and community transmission, we will order those schools to close for in-person learning.
The DOH’s decision framework outlines recommendations for both instructional and extracurricular activities based on COVID-19 activity in the surrounding community.
If you are planning on offering extracurricular activities, must follow K-12, applicable Safe Start protocols and Governor’s proclamations on COVID-19. Efforts must include:
- Symptom screening
- Grouping staff and students into small groups (or "cohorts")
- Physical distance
- Face coverings
- Appropriate hand hygiene, cleaning, & ventilation
The DOH's decision framework outlines recommendations for both instructional and extracurricular activities based on COVID-19 activity in the surrounding community.
If you are planning on offering extracurricular activities, must follow K-12, applicable Safe Start protocols and Governor's proclamations on COVID-19. Efforts must include:
- Symptom screening
- Grouping staff and students into small groups (or "cohorts")
- Physical distance
- Face coverings
- Appropriate hand hygiene, cleaning, & ventilation
Please refer to Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) for specific guidance for sport.
While standardized testing is not explicitly named in the Washington State Department of Health’s (DOH) Tools to Prepare for Provision of In-Person Learning among K-12 Students, these guidelines can be applied to these activities. The guidance metrics are offered as a framework and subject to local decision making. With the right protocols in place (e.g., masking, physical distancing, cleaning, etc.) kids should be able to take the test and leave in a timely manner without significant interaction. For schools that are considering hosting standardized testing, an additional resource is the Miscellaneous Venues COVID-19 Requirements from the Governor’s office.
Limit the use of locker rooms to handwashing and restroom use only. Showers should not be used due to potential spread of aerosolized droplets. Consider eliminating requirements to change clothes for PE. If use of locker rooms for changing is necessary, maximize ventilation and use tape, spots or cones to signal 6 feet of distance for students who need to change. Stagger entry to the changing area and use these facilities as appropriate with members of the same group/cohort. Make sure to limit occupancy of the locker rooms to avoid crowding.
A student’s health screening information, COVID-19 test results, and other related information collected by or reported to a school is considered Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and is protected under FERPA as part of the educational record. For information about disclosure of FERPA-covered PII during the COVID-19 pandemic for purposes such as contact tracing in schools, please refer to the FERPA & Coronavirus Disease 19 (COVID-19) Frequently Asked Questions resource from the United State Department of Education.
Schools should align their plans for returning to in-person instruction with the Washington State Department of Health's (DOH) decision framework.
Before introducing or inviting more students into their buildings, Public Health recommends schools monitor key indicators of COVID-19 transmission and transmission rates in their buildings/districts for at least two weeks. Data for King County’s key indicators of COVID-19 transmission change daily. Some figures (including case rate, an indicator in DOH’s school reopening decision framework) look at data over the past 14 days.
Schools must be able to do the following before re-introducing in-person services:
- implement strong and consistent mitigation measures to prevent transmission, AND
- Have solid response protocols and staffing in place to respond quickly and effectively if cases arise.
In addition to reviewing these key data and recommendations, schools and districts must consider implementation planning and stakeholder input in this process. With transmission rates as they are, we expect cases could occur in schools and schools should prepare for the potential of classroom closures or a shift to remote instruction if cases arise.
King County data on key indicators of COVID-19 activity are only one factor for school/district decision making about providing in-person services. While these data highlight general health indicators in King County as a whole, school and district leaders must make decisions in coordination with staff, community, and other key stakeholders. Other considerations may include but are not limited to:
- School and district readiness to implement health and safety requirements
- Community context and city-specific data about COVID-19 transmission
- Staffing capacity and concerns
- Ability to quickly and clearly communicate with families
We recognize and appreciate the complexity of operating schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools and communities must make challenging decisions to support student learning and community wellbeing.
Good ventilation and indoor air quality are important in reducing airborne exposure to viruses, including the virus that causes COVID-19. However, school buildings across King County vary in building design, building age, Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems, and their ability to provide adequate ventilation and air filtration.
Good ventilation and filtration are achieved by increasing the intake of outdoor air as much as possible and/or through effective air filtration. These approaches reduce airborne transmission of viruses by decreasing the number of viral particles that accumulate in indoor air. But ventilation and air filtration are not effective alone. Ventilation and air filtration are tools that must be used along with other measures such as:
- health screenings,
- physical distancing,
- reducing classroom/building occupancy,
- frequent hand washing,
- wearing face coverings, and
- implementing appropriate cleaning and disinfection protocols.
Measures that can reduce the risk of long-range airborne transmission of COVID-19
The California Department of Public Health identified 4 main protective strategies that can substantially reduce the risk of long-range airborne transmission of COVID-19 in the classroom. Consideration of these measures can help schools evaluate their strategies to re-open. The four main measures are:
- Wearing face coverings
- Outdoor air ventilation
- In-room portable air cleaners. (Note: air cleaning devices that generate harmful pollutants are not recommended such as ionization/ozone generators)
The Washington Department of Health provides the following guidance for Ventilation and Air Quality for Reducing Transmission of COVID-19. If your school is preparing to re-open, below are some actions to prioritize.
Ventilation management to prioritize:
- Filter upgrade and regular replacements.
- Aim for the highest rated filter possible with your system: MERV 13 or higher is recommended.
- Clogged filters decrease HVAC operation and decrease the ability to improve indoor air quality (IAQ).
- Inspect, clean, and repair entire systems regularly.
- Reduce recirculation of air and increase/maximize outside air flow.
- Aim for 40-50% relative humidity (RH).
- Flush rooms/building with outside air prior to occupancy and after, especially while cleaning and disinfection is occurring.
- Install paper towels to dry hands and disconnect hand dryers (blowers).
- Inspect and maintain local exhaust ventilation in restrooms, kitchens, cooking areas, labs, etc.
- Restroom exhaust fans should operate at full capacity 24/7.
- Work with building engineer or HVAC specialist to generate air movement that goes from clean-to-less-clean air through positioning of air supply and exhaust air diffusers and/or dampers (especially in higher risk areas such as the nurse’s office).
When HVAC ventilation and filtration cannot be optimized or does not exist, there may be other options to improve ventilation and indoor air filtration. Because each school building’s existing ventilation system is different, your school’s or district’s professional engineer or HVAC specialist should be consulted to determine the best way to maximize the system’s ventilation and air filtration capabilities for each specific room in the school.
Detailed guidance can be found in CDC’s guidance for improving ventilation and increasing filtration in schools.
- 5-step guide to checking ventilation rates in classrooms, Harvard School of Public Health
- ASHRAE Reopening schools and universities guidance and the ASHRAE guidance for the re-opening of schools, American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers
King County guidance for child care providers can be accessed here. The guidance includes advice to prevent the spread of COVID-19, steps to take if someone develops symptoms or is confirmed to have COVID-19, and letter and fact sheet templates for families. Guidance is translated in multiple languages.
The Washington State Dept. of Health created guidance for child care.
Many child care facilities and early learning programs face similar issues as schools during this pandemic. Unlike schools, the state of Washington considers child care to be an essential service. This is because child care gives parents or guardians who have to work a safe place for their children.
According to the Washington State Dept. of Health's child care guidance, families are encouraged to safely keep their children at home first to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Child care centers usually have fewer children enrolled than schools. They also operate in smaller settings than schools, usually keeping children in the same groups, called “cohorts.” This combination limits potential spread of COVID-19. This set up allows for:
- Easier management of symptom tracking and daily health monitoring of staff and students, in partnership with parents or guardians
- Reduced risk of broad disease transmission within the child care setting
Licensed child care centers are also required to meet Washington Administrative Code for cleaning and disinfecting practices. These child care settings have made cleaning and disinfecting a normal part of their daily activities.
In schools, there are many more students and staff interacting throughout the day. For older students, it is nearly impossible to keep them in the same group of students because of different class schedules and grade levels. This increases the risk of community spread.
At this time, child cares and early learning programs are allowed to remain open regardless of whether K-12 education is providing in-person or remote learning. Each individual child care program decides whether to remain open or not.
According to the Governor's order, child care is an essential service. At this time, child care and early learning programs are allowed to remain open regardless of whether K-12 education is providing in-person or remote learning. Each individual child care program decides whether to remain open or not.
The Safe Start Washington Recovery Plan does not address reopening for child care or early learning. However, throughout the pandemic, child care has remained open and may continue to operate.
If you have any questions, please contact the COVID-19 Call Center at: 206-477-3977. When you call, identify yourself as a child care provider so your question can be directed to the appropriate person or program for a response.
Link/share our site at www.kingcounty.gov/covid/schools/faq