COVID Q&A: Schools

As children go back to school, parents are confused about some of the guidelines, especially about when they should keep a child home from school. When should a child be kept home?

The school setting has a large influence on your child’s health and well-being. The school environment provides educational instruction, supports social and emotional skills, safety, speech, mental health, nutrition, and opportunities for physical activity. If your child is participating in in-person classes, they can attend unless they are sick with symptoms of COVID-19 or other illnesses or have been exposed to a positive case of COVID-19.

It is important to help your child promote behaviors that reduce the spread of infections including social distancing, washing hands, and wearing cloth face coverings.

What if my child is exposed to a positive case at school?

If your child has been in close contact (within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes) with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, they should stay home for at least 14 days since the last contact with the person who tested positive. 

The child should be monitored for symptoms, which may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. Symptoms for COVID-19 may include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Look for emergency warning signs* for COVID-19.

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Bluish lips or face

*If someone is showing any of these signs, seek emergency medical care immediately Call 911.

Should I have my child tested if they were exposed?

Testing for SARS-CoV-2 is recommended at any time if symptoms develop or at 5-7 days after last contact with a person who tested positive. 

  • If testing is negative: Remain at home for 14 days after last contact with the positive case. This is because COVID-19 infections can develop up to 14 days after exposure to the virus, so a negative test at 5-7 days doesn’t mean you won’t develop the infection.
  • If testing is positive: Remain at home for at least 10 days after symptom onset AND no fever for at least 24 hours (without use of fever reducing medication) AND symptom improvement. If you never develop symptoms, stay home for 10 days after the positive test.
  • If test is positive, all siblings and household contacts must also stay at home for at least 14 days. Contact your healthcare provider for specific instructions.

Are “mask breaks” acceptable in schools?

For children, wearing masks can be difficult. We understand why teachers might be considering “mask breaks” for children in their classrooms. They want to make it as easy as possible for the kiddos in their classrooms to focus on learning. We can all relate – wearing a mask is not comfortable and can cause us all to lose focus.

But it is still very important to follow the guidelines and keep masks on when at least 6 feet of physical distancing can’t be maintained. If masks are removed for a period of time, that is an opportunity for it to spread, especially if the children are talking or singing.

To make the masks as comfortable as possible for children, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends:

  1. Buying or making masks that are specifically for children. They will be smaller and fit better on their faces.
  2. If you can’t find a mask that’s made specifically for children, make sure the mask fits snugly over the mouth and nose, and under the chin. Some masks have straps that are adjustable over the ears.
  3. Don’t put masks on children younger than 2 years old.

Testing for teachers and staff was mentioned at a previous press conference as something that was happening soon. Now that schools are opening back up, are there new options for teachers and staff?

The Department of Health and Welfare has received funding for testing teachers and school staff. We are working with the local public health districts to establish agreements with testing sites to facilitate faster testing for teachers and school staff. The funds will be used for K-12 testing efforts in public, private, and charter schools, focusing on teachers and staff with COVID-19 compatible symptoms.  

Asymptomatic people who have had close contact with someone with known or suspected COVID-19 also may need to be tested based on contact investigations and consultation with the local public health district, but that will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

DHW also is pursuing agreements with pharmacies in Idaho to pay for SARS-CoV-2 tests for teachers and school staff who are uninsured or whose insurance does not cover the tests.

The agreements will work on a voucher system for uninsured teachers and school staff. The local public health districts and the State Department of Education will be communicating with schools regarding testing recommendations and options for teachers and school staff as information becomes available.

To slow the spread of COVID-19 in Idaho, please remember to:

  • Keep at least six feet between you and others in public
  • Wear face coverings in public places 
  • Stay home if you are sick
  • Wash your hands often
  • Cover coughs and sneezes
  • Disinfect surfaces and objects regularly


Stay up-to-date with the latest and most accurate information on COVID-19 at the following websites:

DHW also posts lots of information, including daily updates on the numbers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Sonja Schriever is the chief of the Bureau of Community and Environmental Health in the Division of Public Health.

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