Schools could shut down for several days of contact tracing if one student tests positive for COVID-19, and for two weeks if two or more students in two or more classrooms test positive, according to pandemic guidance for schools released Thursday by the Colorado health department.
Schools are not required to follow the guidance, which outlines who should stay home if a student or staff member tests positive for the potentially deadly virus or is suspected of having it.
Schools must, however, report all suspected and confirmed outbreaks to their local public health agency or the state health department within four hours, according to a press release that accompanied the guidance.
A classroom or cohort should quarantine for 14 days if a case of the virus is suspected or confirmed. If even a single case is confirmed, gradewide or schoolwide dismissals may be necessary during the contact-tracing process, according to the guidance.
An entire school should be closed for two weeks for outbreaks, defined as two or more people testing positive, in five or more classes or cohorts over a two-week period; when 5% or more of unrelated students and staff are diagnosed within a two-week period (minimum of 10); when additional time is needed for decision-making and cleaning; and/or when a school can't operate because a large number of students and/or staff are absent, the guidance adds.
A school closure should be considered with as few as two class/cohort outbreaks, the guidance states.
Schools should consider schoolwide testing when multiple students and/or staff are diagnosed, even when criteria for declaration of a schoolwide outbreak isn't met, though they won't be required to cover the cost of testing, according to the guidance.
Under Gov. Jared Polis' "safer at home" phase, school districts retain control over pandemic operations unless their local public health agency opts to require approval.
With the governor's statewide mask mandate, face coverings will be required for those older than 10 and recommended for younger children, according to officials with the state health and education departments at a virtual news conference July 20 outlining the latest guidance for schools.
Beyond that, draft guidance provided by the state is simply that, guidance, with decision-making generally in the hands of school boards and superintendents.
Posted to the Colorado Education Department's website last week, the state's draft guidance provides recommendations under each coronavirus response phase outlined by the governor: "stay at home," which the state was under from late March through late April and could shift back to, if conditions warrant; "safer at home," which the state has been under since the at-home order was lifted in late April; and "protect our neighbors," which localities are eligible to transition to after meeting certain criteria set forth by the state.
The guidance will be adjusted in the coming weeks based on feedback and the evolving COVID situation, officials said.
Under a stay-at-home order, students would be limited to remote learning, with the exception of those with specific learning needs for whom in-person education is necessary. For those students, small cohorts — small groups who would study and stay together — without the rotation of teachers are advised.
Under the current safer at home phase, schools are advised to continue remote instruction if it's best for their community, but allowed to resume in-person learning, with a limited number of teachers rotating in and out of classroom cohorts.
For children in kindergarten through fifth grade, normal class sizes are allowed, with up to four adults per classroom per day. Social distancing is not required. In grades six to eight, the state advises that schools work to reduce class sizes and limit adults to three per classroom per day. A limit on adults per classroom per day is not given for high school students. Social distancing is recommended for grades six and above.
Students should stick with a cohort to minimize the spreading of the virus, and movement to locations like recess and science labs should be staggered to avoid co-mingling, according to the guidance.
Under protect our neighbors, regular size classes are allowed, with increasingly large cohorts and numbers of teachers involved with each. Social distancing is recommended for students in grades six and above but not required at any grade level.