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Public Health Guidance for Reopening Schools

Any decision to reopen schools during the COVID-19 pandemic will have a tremendous impact on children’s safety, growth and well-being. Such decisions should only be made after careful consideration of the benefits, risks and precautions necessary to keep children, families, teachers and staff safe. To that end, the Yale School of Public Health and Yale University’s Office of Facilities has compiled the following information as a public service to inform and guide school officials, parents and community leaders during this process.

This information includes: an overview of necessary safety measures, detailed guidance on how to implement those measures within different school areas (e.g. classrooms, gyms, cafeterias, playgrounds) and critical issues to consider during school reopening. Yale School of Public Health experts in environmental health, pediatrics and infectious diseases also explain some of the fundamental principles of disease control as it relates to school-directed initiatives such as the elimination of physical contact, student isolation and engineered improvements to school buildings. Steps that individual students and teachers can take to reduce their risk are also identified. A combination of both school-initiated precautions and individual actions is necessary to reduce disease transmission.

Given the heightened vulnerability of children during this pandemic crisis, we also highlight the special mental health considerations that schools should consider a priority during the reopening process. We acknowledge the unique nature of individual schools and recognize that targeted solutions must be developed for each. Our overarching goal in presenting this information is to protect the capacity of K-12 schools to function safely and effectively at school.

Fundamental Elements for School Safety During COVID-19

  • Universal mask use
  • Minimum distancing of 3 feet (1.5 meters) at all times
  • Assertive hygiene: hand washing, cleaning all surfaces promptly
  • Optimized indoor air quality
  • Outdoor teaching when possible
  • Limiting crowds
  • Abundant and sustained testing
  • Provisions for temporary isolation or quarantine
  • Contact tracing of positive cases

Reopening Requires Resources

The steps required to make schools safer during the COVID-19 pandemic - improved air quality, masks, hand sanitizers, plexiglass barriers, grab-and-go meals, outdoor tents, and smaller class sizes - require extra resources. Governments must acknowledge this and provide additional resources for schools prior to the availability of scientifically-validated treatments and vaccines.

School environments must shift to establish an ingrained culture of universal, routine mask use. Behavioral adherence must be reinforced and incentivized. Vulnerable groups must be protected, whether students, vulnerable persons living with the students, teachers, or staff. Community-wide precautions reduce disease prevalence and can help schools reopen more quickly. We recommend virtual online learning in communities where viral transmission is high.