K-12 Schools and Childcare Facilities
The Arizona Department of Education recently released its Guidance for Families and Educators for the Re-opening of Schools. Please see the site for the most up-to-date guidance and other resources for Arizona’s public district and charter schools as they navigate COVID-19 response.
While many schools begin the academic year in distance-learning environments, here are some things schools can do to support students and families:
- Ensure parents/guardians have a plan to designate a caregiver for a sick child(ren) if parents/guardians can’t stay home.
- Share resources to address food insecurity for families who rely on schools for breakfast and/or lunch.
- Identify how the school will communicate updates to parents/guardians.
Illness Monitoring and Reporting
Schools should encourage all students/parents, staff, and teachers to self-monitor for symptoms at home prior to leaving for school. Childcare facilities should also instruct staff and families of children attending their facility to conduct symptom monitoring or implement procedures for on-site screening prior to check-in.
COVID-19 symptoms include:
- Fever (greater than or equal to 100.4 F or 38 C)
- Subjective chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
Check the CDC website for the latest list of symptoms associated with COVID-19.
COVID-19 symptoms may present differently in children than in adults. For example, children are less likely than adults to have fever with COVID-19 and more likely to present with non-respiratory symptoms such as nausea and diarrhea. It is important to recognize many common illnesses have similar symptoms. In an abundance of caution, any person experiencing symptoms should remain home.
For children or staff who may have symptoms of COVID-19, have tested positive for the disease, or were exposed to someone with COVID-19, see the information provided on our Sick or Exposed to COVID-19 page.
- Children and staff who are ill, especially with acute respiratory symptoms (not allergies or chronic conditions), should stay home.
- Review sick policies for staff; ensure staff can stay home when ill.
- Ensure prescribed cleaning is happening at facilities (routine disinfectants are appropriate).Enhance cleaning of high touch surfaces like door knobs, toilet handles, and sink handles
- Ensure that hand sanitizer, soap/paper towels and tissues are widely available in school and childcare facilities.
- Remind students to cover their coughs/sneezes with a tissue or their elbow.
Guidance, Forms and Templates
Reporting Suspected or Confirmed Positive Cases of COVID-19 in Schools
- Letter to Healthcare Providers Concerning Children’s Illnesses (PDF - 10/19/20)
- Steps to Take if Student or Staff is Diagnosed with COVID-19 (PDF - Rev. 08/07/20)
- Schools Reporting Form (Fillable PDF - Rev. 09/15/20)
- Schools Reporting Line List (Excel - Rev. 09/15/20)
- Home isolation guidance and flow chart for people who test positive or have symptoms consistent with COVID-19: English | Spanish (PDF - Rev. 10/23/20)
- Quarantine guidance and flow chart for household and close contacts of a person with COVID-19: English | Spanish (PDF - Rev. 10/23/20)
- Exposed Persons at School Reporting Line List (Excel - Rev. 09/02/20)
- Public Health Statement for Medical Absence: English | Spanish (PDF - Rev. 10/15/20)
Notice of Exposure/Outbreak Template Letters
- School & Childcare Child Exposure: English | Spanish (Word - Rev. 10/06/20)
- School & Childcare Staff Exposure: English | Spanish (Word - Rev. 10/06/20)
- School Outbreak Notification Letter: English | Spanish (Word - Rev. 10/06/20)
Prevention and Mitigation Guidance for Schools
- Food Services Guidelines for Schools (PDF - Rev. 09/08/20)
- School Transportation Guidance (PDF - Rev. 09/08/20)
- Ventilation Guidance (PDF - Rev. 09/08/20)
- Isolation Room Guidance (PDF - Rev. 09/08/20)
- PPE Infection Control Guidance (PDF - Rev. 09/08/20)
- Cleaning and Disinfection in schools (PDF - Rev. 09/08/20)
- Symptom Screening in schools (PDF - Rev. 08/09/20)
- Returning to School Risk Decisions (PDF - Rev. 07/27/20):
- Face coverings in schools (PDF - Rev. 07/22/20)
- Physical distancing in schools (PDF - Rev. 07/22/20)
FAQs for Parents/Caregivers
If you have questions not answered in the FAQs provided below, please Contact Us.
See our COVID-19 main FAQs for general information about COVID-19.
Wearing Face Masks
Public Health strongly recommends the use of face coverings, or masks, by students and staff in schools and on school buses or other public transportation. A mask helps prevent a person who is infected, even without symptoms, from spreading the virus to others. It also provides some protection to the person wearing the mask. Appropriate and consistent use of masks is most important when students, teachers, and staff are indoors and when people can’t keep at least 6 feet from others.
Masks should be removed when eating or drinking or during physical activity outdoors, as long as six feet of distancing is maintained.
Policy decisions about face masks and their use on school campuses will be made by the local school or school district authority.
Public Health recommends the use of cloth face coverings. These should:
- Completely cover both the mouth and nose;
- Fit snugly, but comfortably against the sides of the face;
- Be secured with ties or loops;
- Include multiple tightly woven layers of material;
- Allow for breathing without restrictions;
- Be washed and machine-dried without damage or change to shape.
Unacceptable face coverings include masks that do not provide a secure fit over the nose and mouth, including:
- Gaiters made of fleece or single-layer material
- Masks with valves or vents, and
- Plastic face shields worn without a face mask.
It is important to remember that the use of face coverings/masks PDF PDF PDF PDF PDF PDF PDF PDF PDF PDF PDF should be combined with other everyday preventive actions and control measures such as frequent handwashing, social/physical distancing, and covering coughs and sneezes, as face coverings do not provide 100% protection against COVID-19.
Masks should be washed after every day of use and/or before being used again, or if visibly soiled. If you have a younger child, consider writing their initials with a fabric pen on the mask to avoid confusion or swapping. Store their mask in a clear, sealable plastic bag and label it with their name.
Consider packing an additional mask for your student in case a back-up mask is needed during the day.
Talk with your child about how to correctly wear masks now before they head back to school and remind them of the positive action they are taking to protect others when wearing a face mask. By displaying good mask-wearing behavior, you’ll also help your child learn by example. Remember, “My mask protects you. Your mask protects me.”
A resource for helping your child incorporate regular use of face coverings can be found on this page from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
There are valid concerns that may prevent someone from wearing a cloth face covering, or mask.
Masks should not be placed on:
- Children younger than 2 years old
- Anyone who has trouble breathing or is unconscious
- Anyone who is incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance
Appropriate and consistent use of masks may be challenging for some students, teachers, and staff, including those with:
- Severe asthma or other breathing difficulties.
- Special educational or healthcare needs, including intellectual and developmental disabilities, mental health conditions, and sensory concerns or tactile sensitivity.
School leaders should work with students who cannot tolerate face coverings due to legitimate health reasons (e.g. health conditions, disability, etc.) and work to create a school climate that will combat negative attitudes or bullying of these students. Parents can reinforce this behavior at home by talking with their children about these exceptions.
While masks are strongly encouraged to reduce the spread of COVID-19, there may be specific instances when wearing a mask may not be feasible. In these instances, CDC has recommended these adaptations and alternatives for consideration. See our guidance for Recommendations for Use of Face Coverings in Schools.
According to CDC, it is not known if face shields provide any benefit to protect others from the spray of respiratory particles. A face shield is primarily used for eye protection for the person wearing it. Public Health does not recommend use of face shields for normal everyday activities or as a substitute for cloth face coverings.
Some people may choose to use a face shield, in addition to a mask, when close contact with other people is expected over a long period of time. If face shields are used without a mask or cloth face covering, they should wrap around the sides of the wearer’s face and extend to below the chin.
The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) has partnered with Hanes to provide free face masks to those who need them. Anyone who is a student (or parents on behalf of students) or school staff member, or anyone who may not be able to purchase a mask, can order them at no cost. Each order will provide 5 washable, reusable cloth face masks, one order per household. To order your free masks on the ADHS website, click here Version OptionsK-12 Schools and Childcare Facilities Headline.
Re-Opening and Re-Closing Schools
In order for schools to initiate any type of in-person learning, there are two questions to consider:
- When can we safely reopen schools for in-person learning?
- If we can reopen schools for in-person learning, how do we do that safely?
The community spread benchmark thresholds are recommendations for school decision-makers to use as a guide in deciding when it may be safe to initiate a move to in-person learning. The quality of a school's mitigation plan, which identifies how it will protect the health of students, staff, and teachers upon re-opening, is a critical part in determining its readiness. Strategies schools may consider to reduce the risk of transmission among students and staff are shared in the Arizona Department of Education’s Roadmap for Reopening Schools guidance. These include things such as modifying classroom layouts to promote physical distancing, encouraging behaviors that reduce spread such as hand hygiene and use of facial coverings, and maintaining healthy environments through enhanced cleaning and proper ventilation.
Schools are required to share their mitigation plans on their website prior to offering on-site support services and/or in-person instruction. If schools have questions about their mitigation plans, decision-makers can reach out to Public Health for guidance.
Stay updated on community spread in your school area by viewing our School Dashboard.
A hybrid model is a combined instructional approach of having some students partake in in-person learning, while some students engage in virtual learning. This might involve students being on campus on certain days of the week. On other days, they would learn at-home with online components. There are various ways this learning model can be implemented and will vary based on the unique needs of each school community and the students they serve.
Remember, the type of learning scenario recommended for a selected area is based on the area’s overall risk level of community spread. However, this does not mean a school has to choose that recommended scenario. It is up to school district decision-makers to determine the delivery model of instruction that best meet the needs of the students and families they serve. More information about this process can be found in the Arizona Department of Education’s Roadmap for Reopening Schools guidance.
It is important to plan for a variety learning models. Parents and caregivers should make decisions about what learning environment best suits the needs of their child based upon the options available and the risks/benefits associated with each. We encourage you to reach out to your child’s school and/or school district and learn more about the re-opening options being discussed. This way, you can make an informed decision about the models of delivery being offered and what mitigation plans will be in place by the school to help protect the health of students, teachers, and staff upon re-opening.
The CDC has created a decision-tool checklist PDF PDF PDF PDF PDF PDF PDF PDF PDF PDF PDF to help parents and caregivers think through these options, such as deciding between in-person and virtual learning.
Your child’s school should share information about what safety measures will be taken to protect the health of students, staff, and teachers based upon their re-opening plans. Here are some points to keep in mind:
- Based on available evidence, most children are at lower risk for severe illness from COVID-19 than adults.
- Even if they are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms, children can still transmit the virus to people who are at higher risk for more severe symptoms that may require hospitalization.
- A September report by ADHS indicated about 1.5% of Arizonans younger than 20 have been reported with COVID-19. Children under the age of 18 make up only 9% of all cases with known ages reported in Arizona.
If your child or your household members have significant underlying health conditions, you should talk with your healthcare provider and discuss any concerns you may have about different learning scenarios for your child.
Parents can help kids get used to the changes they will see at school. This may include practicing physical distancing, encouraging the proper use of face coverings, and reinforcing good handwashing. Being familiar with the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 also can be helpful. But remember: You can have and spread COVID-19 to others even if you do not show symptoms.
Similar to determining when to reopen schools for in-person learning, the decision of when to quarantine a group of students or a classroom, or when close a portion or all of the school should be made in close coordination with Public Health. This may take into account a number of factors, including but not limited to:
- the level of community transmission
- whether cases have been identified among students and staff
- if cases are identified, how many classrooms are affected
- percent absenteeism in the school
- student population being affected (i.e., age of students, classrooms affected, etc.)
- the model of instruction delivery and mitigation plans in place
- the importance of in-person education to the social, emotional, and academic growth and well-being of the student population
Public Health provides guidance to local school communities in using the benchmark data to help them make more informed decisions about when it may be safe for students and staff to return to in-person instruction. We also provide education and support for COVID-19 mitigation strategies and best practices.
Cases & School Outbreaks
The CDC describes fever and cough as the most common symptoms of COVID-19 in children. In Maricopa County, we see a similar pattern among children under age 12. Older children tend to report more symptoms overall than younger ones, but have fever less than half the time, similar to adults. Approximately 13% of all COVID-19 cases in Maricopa County to date have been among ages 0-19.
Maricopa County disease investigators have been learning more about COVID-19 symptoms in children as they talk with families of school-aged children who have tested positive for COVID-19. As of late September, here is some of what we've learned:
- The majority (over 75%) of all children with positive COVID-19 tests reported at least one symptom. The most common symptoms reported are similar to many viral infections – fever, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, cold symptoms, or diarrhea.
- Pre-school children have fewer symptoms overall, with fever being the most common symptom.
- Of those with symptoms, more than half of elementary school aged children reported fever and/or headache.
- Children age 12 and over reported more symptoms overall with over half reporting fatigue, headache, muscle aches and loss of taste and smell.
If you were informed by Public Health or school officials that your child was a close contact with another student or a school staff member infected with COVID-19, you should follow our guidance for quarantine. This includes staying home from school and monitoring for symptoms for 14 days after your child’s last contact with the sick person.
Your child also should refrain from any afterschool activities or sports during this time and limit contact with others outside their household.
Public Health defines close contact as being within 6 feet of a person with COVID-19 for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period* starting from 2 days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, 2 days prior to test specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated.
*Individual exposures added together over a 24-hour period (e.g., three 5-minute exposures for a total of 15 minutes).
With or without symptoms, getting testing after being exposed to someone with COVID-19 could help reduce further spread of the virus. If you're notified your child was identified as a close contact of someone with COVID-19, consider having them tested. You can use one of the free community testing sites or ask your school nurse or administrator about a free testing option Public Health has made available for students and staff who were exposed at school.
If your child tests positive, you'll receive guidance on how to separate them from others in the house to prevent spread to others. It can be helpful to identify this before the quarantine period is over, especially if there are siblings who also attend school or any high-risk individuals in the home. Be sure to report positive test results to your school nurse so that they can follow-up with you and provide additional guidance. Testing labs will report positive test results to Public Health.
Note, a negative test will not reduce the 14-day quarantine requirement, as it can take up to 14 days for the virus to develop. Even if your child tests negative after a week, he or she can still develop the disease and infect others, with or without symptoms.
If your child was exposed to a student infected with COVID-19, it is important to follow the recommended quarantine of 14-days, regardless of negative test results. That’s because, you can develop the infection for 14 days after the exposure. Even if you test negative after a week, you can still develop the disease and infect others, with or without symptoms.
Public Health routinely works with schools on case reporting and outbreak procedures. As part of statewide emergency measures to combat COVID-19, schools are now required to report outbreaks of COVID-19 to their local health department. A COVID-19 outbreak in a school is defined as having 2 or more PCR-positive cases of COVID-19 among students or staff with illness onset within a 14-day period. These cases must be “epi-linked” (i.e., could have reasonably come into contact with each other in school) and must not share a household.
Public Health investigates every case of COVID-19, and if a case is affiliated with a school (i.e., is a student, staff member, or teacher), we work directly with the school to notify them and provide guidance about next steps. Should an outbreak of COVID-19 occur in a school, Public Health will conduct case investigations and assist the school with contact tracing efforts to identify and notify any students or staff who are determined to be close contacts. Public Health also will work with the school to provide appropriate disease prevention and control guidance.
In addition to notifying Public Health, schools are required to notify parents/guardians, students and staff about the outbreak, and steps they are taking to prevent spread of COVID-19, while maintaining case confidentiality. Public Health will assist schools with these efforts with template letters, if needed.
Due to patient privacy laws, MCDPH cannot release personal information or identifiable information to the public, including families who are part of a school community with an outbreak. What Public Health can do is work directly with the infected person, and the school, to identify who that person may have exposed while they were sick. Those individuals who are identified and considered close contacts, are immediately contacted and informed about the exposure so that they can take appropriate precautions to monitor for illness and prevent further spread.
Public Health will not name schools with outbreaks and will not report the number of COVID-19 cases at any individual school. If you see this in information in the news it might have been released by school representatives, parents, students or staff themselves.
Public Health advises schools that an outbreak in the school can be considered closed or over after 28 days (i.e., two 14-day COVID-19 incubation periods) have passed without a new case linked to the school outbreak. We will communicate with the school when their outbreak is considered closed.
Public Health reports the number of outbreaks it is investigating in schools on its dashboard.
Other Considerations & Resources
New testing methods have been developed since the start of the pandemic for detecting SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Some involve inserting a swab into the nose, others require a spit sample. While most labs can turn results back in two to three days, new rapid testing kits can provide results in as little as 15 minutes. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two types of tests for diagnosing an active COVID-19 infection:
PCR test. This COVID-19 test detects genetic material (RNA) of the virus using a lab technique called polymerase chain reaction (PCR). PCR tests are considered highly accurate, but running the tests and analyzing the results can take time. Results may be available in as little as 24 hours or a few days depending on the lab's proximity to the testing site and other factors.
PCR tests require that a health care worker collects fluid from the nose or throat. Many coronavirus testing sites have started using shorter, less invasive swabs to swab inside the nostrils and don’t go as far into the nose as the long, uncomfortable nasopharyngeal swab. Saliva-based PCR testing is now also available, where you spit into a small collection tube.
- Antigen test. This COVID-19 test detects certain proteins in the virus. Using a nose or throat swab to get a fluid sample, rapid antigen tests can produce results in minutes. A positive antigen test result is considered very accurate, but there's an increased chance of false-negative results — meaning it's possible to be infected with the virus but still have a negative result. Depending on the situation, your health care provider may recommend a PCR test to confirm a negative antigen test result.
NOTE: While they sound similar, antigen tests are not the same as antibody tests. Antibody, or serology, tests are used to detect a past infection with COVID-19 and require a blood sample to detect the presence of antibodies. Antibody tests are not designed to detect an active infection of the virus and should not be used for diagnostic purposes.
Free community COVID-19 diagnostic testing is widely available and test types vary by testing site. There also may be minimum ages for certain types of tests. For more information and locations near you visit our testing page or call 2-1-1.
COVID-19 diagnostic testing is now widely available, and in many cases, there is no cost due to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. You can get tested whether you are currently experiencing symptoms or are concerned you were exposed to someone with the virus, even if you have no symptoms of illness. To locate a community testing event near you or find links to testing providers, visit our testing page.
It’s likely that flu viruses and the virus that causes COVID-19 will both spread this fall and winter. Healthcare systems could be overwhelmed treating both patients with flu and patients with COVID-19. This means getting a flu vaccine during 2020-2021 is more important than ever.
While getting a flu vaccine will not protect against COVID-19, there are many important benefits, such as:
- Flu vaccines have been shown to reduce the risk of flu illness, hospitalization, and death.
- Getting a flu vaccine can also save healthcare resources for the care of patients with COVID-19.
Check with your healthcare provider or local pharmacy about flu shots in your area. Our three childhood immunization clinics around Maricopa County also have the flu shot free for anyone 6 months through 18 years of age! Please call ahead to ensure vaccine is available. It takes about two weeks to build immunity to the virus so be sure to plan ahead to make sure you and your family are protected.
The Arizona Interscholastic Association has released guidelines for return to sport and activity for competition in the fall which you can find here Version OptionsK-12 Schools and Childcare Facilities Headline.
For how these strategies are being implemented, check with the Athletic Director at your student’s high school or district office.
If you need assistance finding food, paying house bills, accessing free childcare, or other essential services, dial 2-1-1 or 877-211-8661, search on the homepage of 211Arizona.org or download the 211 Arizona app.
Many students are dealing with sudden changes to their social lives and daily routines due to COVID-19. While it is completely normal for youth to experience a wide range of emotions during uncertain times, severe or prolonged feelings of depression or sadness may be an opportunity to provide them with additional support. Talk with your child’s pediatrician about your concerns or seek professional help from a trained counselor. The CDC provides some tips for helping students cope with stress and anxiety here Version OptionsK-12 Schools and Childcare Facilities Headline. For immediate help, counselors are available 24/7 at the Crisis Text Line powered by Kids Help Phone by texting "TALK" to 741-741. For Arizona Teen Lifeline, call 602-248-8336 (TEEN) or 1-800-248-8336 (TEEN) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness, NAMI, operates a free hotline that provides information, referrals and support to people living with a mental health condition, family members and caregivers, mental health providers and the public. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Join us every Thursday for an informational call on COVID-19 and Maricopa County Department of Public Health’s response to this ongoing public health emergency. Each webinar includes a limited amount of time for questions and answers.
Watch Previous Webinars On-Demand:
- Thursday, October 22 | Presentation slides (PDF)
- Thursday, October 15 | Presentation slides (PDF)
- Thursday, October 8 | Presentation slides (PDF)
- View All Previous Sessions
School Staff & Administration
If you are reporting cases of COVID-19 in your school or are seeking official guidance, please first see our Guidance, Forms, and Templates section. For questions not addressed in these documents or if further clarification is needed, please Contact Us.
If you have questions about an exposure notification you received from your child's school or have other questions about COVID-19, please first see our FAQ's. If you still have questions or further clarification is needed, you can speak to someone directly by calling our COVID-19 Parent Hotline. Dial 2-1-1, then press Option 6 for COVID-19, and then Option 3 to connect to a hotline staff member. You also can submit your questions through our Contact Us web form.