K-12 Teacher with students

COVID Guidance for Schools: Preventing Spread in K-12 Classrooms

OHL’s expert COVID guidance for preventing the spread of virus in K-12 classrooms.

Navigating COVID protocols in K-12 schools can be difficult, with school districts trying to balance health and safety requirements with practical concerns for working parents — not to mention the thorny politics that can be involved with this touchy subject.

But as far as best practices for being safe about COVID in schools, we suggest following the recommendations of both the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which issued updated guidance for K-12 schools in August, 2022, and of their local public health officials.

From a commonsense perspective, the guidance for managing exposure and preventing the spread of COVID-19 this school year is similar to how parents and teachers manage other illnesses, like the flu. Mike Smith, senior director of human diagnostics for Biomeme, the parent company of One Health Labs, recommends that school officials “stay up-to-date as new variants are discovered and aware of the different tests available to help them manage or prevent outbreaks,” says Smith.

Here are Smith’s suggestions for parents, teachers, and administrators to help prevent the spread of COVID in schools and classrooms.

For parents, staying up-to-date on all routine vaccinations, including COVID-19, is necessary to prevent illness in oneself and others and is the most effective public health strategy to prevent severe illness. As with the cold or the flu, keep children home when they have symptoms — cough, fever, sore throat, diarrhea, vomiting — and get your child tested if you think they have been exposed, so that you can make informed health decisions for your family.

For schools and teachers, it is important to provide proper ventilation in classrooms and common spaces, continue to encourage students to wash their hands and cover their mouths when sneezing or coughing, and designate staff responsible for daily cleaning and sanitization of contact surfaces. Staying up-to-date on vaccines and boosters is also important to protect teachers and school personnel from the disruption that an outbreak could cause.

For school administrators, work with local public health officials to monitor virus levels in the community. If there is evidence of a spike or surge, consider encouraging students to mask up if local policies allow. This will help manage the exposure to the virus and is an effective way to lessen the impact of outbreaks. Make information about diagnostic and screening testing available to students and families, so that it is easy for them to access those services when needed. Anyone who comes to school with symptoms or develops symptoms during the day should be asked to wear a mask, social distance from others as much as possible. Symptomatic individuals should get tested immediately and isolate for five days if they test positive. After the fifth day, they can return to school, but should wear a mask through their tenth day of the onset of symptoms.

Need COVID testing for a K-12 school? One Health Labs offers on-site testing to help keep your school healthy and running smoothly. Let’s talk.

In the aggregate, these strategies and measures will ensure the safe operation of schools for the academic years. Since COVID-19 may remain with us as an endemic virus, the more parents, school leaders, and public health officials working together in communities can normalize these healthy behaviors and minimize disruption to learning.

The good news as we head into this new school year is that, two years into our adaptation to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is more data and experience to help guide schools in finding the right balance for providing equitable access to education that is also safe from a public health perspective.