The CDC has issued an updated guidance, in the form of its first “COVID-19 Handbook”, for the safe and proper reopening of schools.  The Guidance declares its purpose as follows:

“Every student in America deserves a high-quality education in a safe environment. The Administration believes strongly that returning to in-person learning as soon as possible is essential for all students and families. This includes models where instruction is entirely in-person for students (where students learn from an educator who is physically present) and hybrid approaches that combine in-person and remote learning. To reopen safely in the COVID-19 pandemic and maximize the use of in-person instruction, schools need sufficient resources as well as strong State and local public health measures that everyone follows.”

The Guidance largely emphasizes previous principles promulgated by the CDC, but attempts a more comprehensive approach for addressing common challenges and providing recommendations and examples being utilized in some schools,  in each of the following areas:

  • Face coverings for regular and at-risk populations.
  • Social distancing for regular and at-risk populations.
  • Handwashing and respiratory etiquette.
  • Cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities, including ventilation improvements.
  • Contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine.
  • Student records and privacy.
  • Community and stakeholder engagement.

The Guidance is the first volume in the U.S. Department of Education (ED) COVID-19 Handbook series intended to support the education community as schools reopen.  The series is intended to lay out planning tools and safety measures, in a step-by-step approach, to allow for the prompt reopening and successful operation of schools to minimize the impact or spread of COVID-19 at school and in the community.  The Guidance does not establish new legal requirements, but rather, best practices based on existing science. Strategies for Safely Reopening Elementary and Secondary Schools ED COVID-19 Handbook Volume 1; U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, February 2021

The full report is available on the Department’s website at

A more detailed summary of the “Handbook” is set forth herein:



Strategies for Safely Reopening Elementary and Secondary Schools, ED COVID-19 Handbook Volume 1;

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development

February 2021

Evidence compiled by CDC shows that schools can safely reopen with consistent implementation of risk mitigation strategies by all involved.  The universal and correct wearing of masks and physical distancing remains critical. 

 The recommendations are based on the best-available evidence, which indicates that K-12 schools strictly implementing mitigation strategies can safely open for in-person instruction and remain open and emphasizes the importance of using a combination of mitigation strategies to avoid COVID-19 transmission in schools, including:

  1. Universal and correct wearing of masks.
  2. Physical distancing.
  3. Handwashing and respiratory etiquette.
  4. Cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities, including ventilation improvements.
  5. Contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine, in collaboration with the local health departments.
  6. Safety Considerations Related to Extracurricular Activities and Athletics Programs
  7. Privacy and Confidentiality of COVID Related Information


District and school leaders and educators should consider the following practices as they provide continuity of instruction, including in-person learning to the greatest extent safely feasible.


Masking Practices

One of the most effective mitigation strategies is the consistent and correct wearing of masks. CDC recommends universally and correctly wearing a mask in all public settings, when around anyone who does not live with you (including inside your own home), and when taking care of someone who has COVID-19. Masks should be worn by students, educators, staff, and anyone else working in, around, or entering the school.

General Practices

  • Schools should establish protocols for how and when masks should be removed and where removed masks should be placed (for example, in a container or bag) under conditions of physical distancing during meals.
  • They should discourage or prohibit group mask breaks indoors that are not part of these protocols.
  • However, school leaders should establish safe protocols for students who require a break from their face covering or mask, such as students who require a “sensory break,” allowing temporary removal in a well-ventilated, ideally outdoor, space away from peers.
  • Any mask removal should be consistent with CDC recommendations, including by handling the mask only by the ear loops; not touching eyes, nose, or mouth when removing the mask; and washing hands after removing it.
  • The use of a face shield without the use of a mask is not recommended; face shields have performed poorly in experiments simulating respiratory transmission of infection by aerosols and have not been demonstrated to be effective for preventing transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19.1
  • For school nurses or other adults who might come into contact with a sick student, face shields or other protective equipment for the eyes should be considered in addition to masks that cover the mouth and nose. Face shields should be regularly cleaned and disinfected, for example, by cleaning them daily if reused daily, and replacing as needed.
  • Students and staff should wash masks after each day of use, or if they become soiled.
  • Schools should develop policies for how to appropriately address instances when student are not wearing masks or are not wearing masks correctly.
  • No disciplinary action should be taken for students who do not bring a mask to school.
  • Schools should offer masks to those students who need them, such as students who either forgot to bring in their mask or whose families are unable to afford them.

Special Needs Students

  • However, masks should not be worn by children younger than 2 years old; by someone who cannot wear a mask safely, such as the narrow subset of students with disabilities who cannot wear a mask or safely wear a mask because of their disability, consistent with CDC guidelines; or in a situation when wearing a mask would create a risk to workplace health or safety as determined by the workplace risk assessment. In these instances, parents, educators, and school leaders must keep in mind their responsibilities under Federal disability law and should also consider some of the adaptations and alternatives recommended by CDC, consulting with healthcare professionals for individual advice about the child wearing a mask. If a student typically works with a Direct Service Provider (DSP), school administrators should review the DSP guidance and ensure that DSPs who enter the school building are aware of and following all mitigating actions.
  • The narrow subset of students with disabilities who cannot wear a mask because of their disability, or cannot safely wear a mask, may still safely attend school if other mitigation strategies are able to be followed, including correct masking for others who work or learn with them. Adaptations and alternatives such as additional facial protections can be considered for educators and other students working with or learning with such students in addition to physical distancing. Public schools must provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) as required by federal disability law in both in-person and remote learning environments. Additional considerations and examples for implementing universal masking are described below in greater detail in the Safe Practices for In-Person Learning section of this Handbook.
  • Having all staff and other students wear masks that include a clear panel (while still sealing to a wearer’s face and distinct from a face shield) may be particularly beneficial for students or educators who are deaf or hard of hearing, emerging readers, students with speech disabilities, and English learners.

Signage – Rules for Correct Mask Wearing (CDC has examples of posters)

To support educators, staff, and students in consistently and effectively wearing masks, school leaders and educators should consider posting signs in classrooms and throughout the school building on simple. For example, signs could read:

  • Wash or sanitize your hands before putting on a mask and after taking one off.
  • Do not touch masks while wearing them.
  • Wear your mask over both your nose and mouth.
  • Do not wear masks when they are wet, as that may make it difficult to breathe.
  • Do not share or swap masks (and label masks to prevent accidental swapping).
  • Place used masks in [indicate location of receptacle].

This information must be provided in all communication formats to reach all students.   This information can be reinforced through school newspapers, daily announcements, and role modeling. 


Physical Distancing Practices

Physical distancing is a critical mitigation strategy when combined with wearing masks. CDC recommends keeping at least 6 feet of distance between individuals who do not live in the same household. There are a number of creative strategies that can be used to maximize the physical distance between students if schools are facing challenges in keeping students at least 6 feet apart at all times, whether schools are fully in-person or taking a hybrid approach.

Plan the use of space.

Work with educators, facility staff, and community leaders to identify sufficient safe space that allows for physical distancing of at least 6 feet, making adjustments as needed to classroom layouts. School leaders should conduct a school walkthrough to identify any classrooms or spaces where additional changes might be needed when preparing to reopen for in-person learning. School leaders can also identify other safe spaces in the community that might be available and suitable for instruction to maintain physical distancing, such as libraries and community recreational centers.   Educators should be provided additional collaboration and planning time prior to the school reopening to redesign their classroom space and develop and coordinate new routines among staff to support physical distancing. In addition to collaborating with teachers and paraprofessionals, school leaders can identify opportunities to establish or expand partnerships, for example, with community-based organizations to provide adult supervision for sections of classes that need to meet in different rooms while differentiating such roles from educators’ positions (see Physical Distancing Practices section below). Physical distancing may require reducing the occupancy of classrooms and adding instructional space. For example, classes or groups of students within a class may need to meet in the auditorium, other spaces within a school, or in local convention centers or office space, if such spaces are available and safe for student use.

Classroom Practices

CDC has guidance for schools and educators to consider to help increase distancing in the classroom, including:

  • Reducing the number of students in each classroom.
  • Turning desks to face in the same direction, placing them in large circles (rather than having them closely face each other), or having students sit on only one side of tables, allowing for 6 feet of space in each of these scenarios and placing tape or markings on classroom floors to indicate where desks should be placed to maintain the 6-foot distance.
  • Creating a seating chart and maintaining the same assigned seats throughout the day, to the greatest extent possible.
  • Removing nonessential furniture from classrooms to increase the distance between student desks.
  • Establishing the separation of students through other means, such as partitions between desks, where practicable. If using this strategy, plan to regularly clean the partitions.
  • Modifying learning stations and activities so there are fewer students per group, placing stations at least 6 feet apart to the greatest extent possible, and limiting the use of shared equipment, such as writing utensils, manipulatives, keyboards, and headphones.
  • Clean any shared objects between uses, following instructions from the manufacturer and the cleaning product(s). For example, consider safe ways to clean electronic devices based on the manufacturer’s guidelines.
  • Implementing procedures for turning in assignments in a manner that minimizes contact in the classroom (for example, collecting assignments electronically or in a bin as students exit the classroom).

Cohorting/Podding and Staffing Considerations

A cohort/pod is a stable group with fixed membership that stays together for all courses and activities (e.g., lunch, recess) and avoids contact with other persons or cohorts/pods. It is a strategy that minimizes opportunities for exposure to or transmission of COVID-19; facilitates more efficient contact tracing in the event an individual receives a positive test result; and allows for targeted testing, quarantine, and isolation of a single cohort/pod instead of schoolwide closures in the event an individual or a group of individuals tests positive for COVID-19.  [Cohorting/podding may be more challenging to plan in upper grade levels with traditional schedules where students are less likely to stay with same group of students throughout the school day.]   Cohorting/podding is not a replacement for masks and distancing.

When establishing cohorts/podding, school leaders and educators may consider: 

  • Grouping students into cohorts/pods that stay together all day with their core teacher (and any aide or student teacher who is present), including for lunch and recess. If there are counselors, teachers of electives, related service providers, and specialized instructional support personnel (SISP), they would ideally be assigned to only one cohort/pod or conduct their classes or counseling virtually.
  • For schools using block schedules, another way to minimize the number of interactions is to offer interdisciplinary team block schedules in which teachers from two or more subjects share a common group of students. This may be more feasible for younger students. For example, at two groups of 15 each, the interdisciplinary teaching team would see no more than 30 students in total. SISP, special educators, and related service providers should be included on the interdisciplinary teacher teams.
  • Schools may keep a single cohort/pod together in one classroom and work with educators to consider possible options for educators rotating between cohorts/pods or have small cohorts/pods move together in staggered passing schedules to other classrooms they need to use without allowing students or staff to mix with others from distinctive cohorts/pods. Teachers from different content areas can work in teams that share students, preferably in a dedicated space, separate from others. For example, a math, science, English, history, and special education teacher might work as a team with groups of students they share. Each teacher would see all four groups (60 students total) but would not see any other students in the school.
  • Cohorts/pods could take fewer courses more intensely over shorter periods of time and then switch schedules or membership after a break at the quarter, 15 trimester, or semester in ways that support students attending additional classes while maintaining stable cohorts/pods in a given quarter, trimester, or semester.
  • Creating small cohorts/pods of students requires staffing considerations to ensure that all students are taught by qualified educators. Schools may need to hire additional educators or partner with parents and other community-based volunteers to ensure adults are available to assist students and support teachers when a single class is meeting in multiple locations.

Transportation Considerations & Practices

There are several options to consider to promote safety and increase the distance among students and between students and the driver on school buses:

  • Opening windows, weather permitting, to increase circulation of outdoor air, as long as doing so does not pose a safety or health risk (e.g., risk of falling).
  • Maintaining mandatory consistent, correct use of masks by adults and children while on a school bus and at arrival/departure points (e.g., bus stops), except for individuals who cannot safely wear a mask. Bus drivers should be provided with extra masks to make available in case a student does not have one.
  • Seating one student per row, alternating window and aisle seating, skipping rows when possible.
  • Seating members of the same household next to each other.
  • Providing a partial plexiglass partition between driver and passenger sections.
  • Assigning each bus rider to a designated seat that is the same every day, to promote clear expectations and assist contact tracing, when needed.
  • Using seat assignments that load the bus from the rear forward (and unload from the front backward) to help reduce student contact.
  • If a school system provides transportation for students with disabilities as part of their IEP or 504 plan, including medically fragile children, considering the reservation of specific seats that would not be used for other students during the day and would be subject to special precautions for cleaning. Alternatively, the student’s IEP or 504 team could discuss arranging for separate transportation for those students who require this type of transportation in order to receive FAPE.
  • Installing signage with visual cues on the school bus to encourage physical distancing protocols and to communicate this information to students with vision or reading disabilities.
  • Developing a communication plan to encourage students and parents to maintain physical distance at bus stops and avoid congregating in groups while waiting for the bus.
  • Encouraging families to drive or walk their children to school, if possible, to reduce the number of students on buses. Families could be reimbursed for reasonable and necessary costs associated with ensuring that their children are maintaining safe physical distancing in traveling to and from school. In certain circumstances, for example, it may be appropriate to reimburse families for mileage expenses related to transporting children if there is insufficient space on school buses to maintain physical distancing, provided schools maintain appropriate documentation and conform with any statutory and regulatory requirements related to the Federal, State, or local funding source.

School Building Practices

  • Using non-classroom space (e.g., cafeterias and auditoriums) for instruction to allow for greater physical distancing and having classes outdoors where practical (where heaters or fans could be provided if needed).
  • Providing physical guides, such as tape on floors and signs on walls, to ensure that staff and children remain at least 6 feet apart in lines and at other times.
  • Creating “one-way routes,” or designating areas of the hallway and stairways (i.e., lanes) as flow paths to keep students separated when passing.
  • Reconfiguring bell schedules to streamline foot traffic and maintain practicable physical distancing.
  • Staggering class changes as needed (e.g., by hall, odd/even room numbers, grade/discipline) to decrease the number of students in hallways at one time, providing additional time for transitions, and quickly and efficiently transitioning students in and out of the classroom.
  • Staggering the use of communal places, such as cafeterias, to make it easier for students to remain at least 6 feet apart in line or at tables while eating (making sure to clean between uses, referring as needed to the CDC Toolkit for School Administrators).
  • As feasible, have students eat meals outdoors, weather permitting, or in their classrooms while maintaining physical distance (at least 6 feet apart).
    • Plastic barriers may also be provided.
    • Consider innovative meal delivery methods, such as delivery to classrooms, hallway kiosks, and “grab and go.”
    • Ensure appropriate training for staff to support cleaning surfaces before and after meals and disposing of liquids and leftover food items.
    • Ensure access to potable water during meals, regardless of where they are served.
    • Refer to additional CDC information for school nutrition professionals and volunteers.
  • Staggering the use of communally shared spaces such as playgrounds.
    • Plastic chains, cones, painted lines, or rope can help create a visual separation of different recess areas.
    • Educators can designate labeled areas for specific groups of students that can rotate through the areas throughout a given time period (day or week).
  • Working with educators to coordinate assigned restroom times to ensure multiple classes do not use the restroom at the same time.
  • Eliminating the use of lockers to the greatest extent feasible. When students can be kept in one room throughout the school day, cubbies or baskets can be used as a replacement for lockers.
  • Placing barriers such as plexiglass or sneeze guards for protection at reception desks, in cafeteria service lines and cashier stations, and similar areas where physical distancing is harder to maintain.
  • Painting, taping, or chalking 6-foot spaces to indicate where parents should wait to pick up their child or requiring parents to remain in their car during pickups and drop-offs.
  • Reducing the number of in-person interactions other than those needed for instruction. For example, in Denver Public Schools, staff gatherings or meetings are done virtually, allowing educators to be either on-site or off-site for these interactions, with school leader permission. Behavioral techniques like those found on the Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions & Support’s website can help all students adjust to changes in routines.


 Handwashing and good respiratory etiquette serve as additional mitigation strategies that, in combination with masking, physical distancing, and other practices, help keep students and staff safe.

Best Practices

  • Schools should reinforce regular handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially if done at key times throughout the day.
  • Build time into the day for washing hands.
  • Make hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol content available, and promote hand hygiene.
  • Good hand hygiene – regular handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not readily available – reduces the spread of germs that can cause illness.
  • Educators and school leaders should consider how to set up classrooms to support handwashing and respiratory etiquette.

CDC has fact sheets available about handwashing.


Cleaning and Ventilation  Practices

  • Improve facility cleaning and ventilation to the greatest extent possible,
  • Opening windows and doors and using fans where safe and feasible.
  • Routinely and consistently cleaning the facility, particularly hightouch or shared surfaces.
  • Conducting assessments or audits of existing ventilation systems.
  • Developing a ventilation improvement plan, which may be based on tools from CDC.
  • Schedule incremental checkpoints to ensure plans for updating ventilation are going according to schedule and increase the frequency of changing ventilation filters.
  • Window fans that draw air out to high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) fans.


Districts and schools should establish clear guidelines for when educators, staff, and students should stay home and when they can return to school. Educators, staff, and students who have symptoms or who live with someone who has developed symptoms should stay home and consult with a healthcare provider for testing and care as directed.

For example, schools can share with educators, staff, students, and their families in multiple formats and languages, and other approaches to ensure accessibility for individuals with disabilities, the list of symptoms that, when present, generally suggest that an individual has an infectious illness and should not attend school, regardless of whether or not the illness is COVID-19:

  • Temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
  • Sore throat
  • Cough (for students with chronic cough due to allergies or asthma, a change in their cough from baseline)
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Difficulty breathing (for students with asthma or other respiratory conditions, a change from their baseline breathing)
  • Diarrhea or vomiting
  • New onset of severe headache, especially with a fever

In order to help students, families, educators, and staff get into the habit of checking for these symptoms, district and school leaders will need to establish ways of reminding people of the symptoms and asking them to check. This may include posting signs on the entrances to buildings or providing periodic mobile communications to families with reminders to check.  Students and staff will need to quarantine or isolate if exposed to COVID-19, if they have a confirmed case of COVID-19, or if they live with someone who has COVID-19. Schools should plan for what to do if a student becomes sick at school or reports a new COVID-19 diagnosis. CDC resources provide specific steps a school can follow. For additional information on when to return to school, refer to the CDC scenarios for returning to school. Additional volumes of the handbook will be provided by ED to help support districts and schools in meeting the social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs of students and the well-being of educators and school staff.

Screening testing and prioritizing vaccinations for school staff can be helpful, but are not prerequisites for safe reopening if students and staff consistently implement the mitigation strategies recommended.  

When a positive test result is reported, contract tracing, isolation (for people who test positive), and quarantine (for people who are close contacts to someone who tested positive) can limit secondary transmission in schools. District and school leaders should consider the following steps when developing reopening plans or plans to keep schools open and safe for students, educators, staff, and families:

  • Analyze community data as a first step to determine appropriate in-person learning approaches.
  • District and school leaders should review levels of community transmission to inform the degree of in-person learning that can proceed safely.
  • The CDC K-12 Operational Strategy offers recommendations about thresholds of community transmission and the associated actions schools should take to operate safely.
  • CDC identifies four categories of community transmission of COVID-19 – low (blue), moderate (yellow), substantial (orange), or high (red) — based on two metrics:
    • total new cases per 100,000 persons in the past 7 days and
    • percentage of positive diagnostic and screening viral tests that are nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs), including reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests.
  • At low (blue) levels: K-12 schools open for full in-person learning if they implement the previously listed five key mitigation strategies, including masking and, to the greatest extent possible, physical distancing of 6 feet or more.
  • At moderate (yellow) levels: K-12 schools open for full in-person learning if they implement the previously listed five key mitigation strategies, including masking and, to the greatest extent possible, physical distancing of 6 feet or more.
  • At substantial (orange) levels: K-12 schools open for hybrid learning or reduced attendance if they implement the previously listed five key mitigation strategies, including masking and physical distancing of 6 feet or more.
  • At high (red) levels: • WITH screening testing in place: K-12 schools open for hybrid learning or reduced attendance with strict adherence to mitigation strategies, including masking. Physical distancing of 6 feet or more should be required. Sports and extracurricular activities should be postponed or held virtually. • WITHOUT screening testing in place: o Elementary schools open for hybrid or reduced attendance with strict adherence to mitigation strategies, including masking. Physical distancing of 6 feet or more should be required.

The decision whether to reopen a school – or remain open – should be based on community transmission rates as a first step. As discussed above, the CDC K-12 Operational Strategy offers thresholds of community transmission to help local school officials make decisions about the degree to which schools offer in-person learning.

When determining how to offer in-person instruction and to whom (after taking into consideration community transmission rates), school leaders should develop criteria for prioritizing such instruction if the school is not open for all students. For example, schools might prioritize offering in-person instruction for younger students, students without reliable access to broadband or technology devices, students with disabilities, children in foster care, children experiencing homelessness, and others for whom remote learning is particularly challenging.

The CDC K-12 Operational Strategy indicates that, with full and consistent implementation of mitigation strategies, schools can safely offer in-person learning for at least some students, or even some in-person instruction for all students when operating in a hybrid model, even when community transmission levels are high. However, this requires universal and correct wearing of masks, physical distancing, and other mitigation practices that also take into consideration the disability-related accommodations described below.

A successful school reopening strategy requires engaging the entire school community to promote confidence and demonstrate inclusivity, in addition to broadly engaging education stakeholders to support actions that will lead to a safe learning environment for all educators, staff, and students. School reopening planning should include representatives from a wide range of school personnel and other stakeholders to get diverse input and foster trust, engagement, and support. School representatives should include, at a minimum, administrators, teachers, specialized instructional support personnel (e.g., paraprofessionals), related service providers, early childhood education providers, school counselors, school social workers, school psychologists, and nurses, as well as custodial personnel, transportation personnel, food personnel, and family services representatives. It is especially important to include professional education representative organizations/unions, as well as special education-related services providers and specialized instructional support personnel organizations, in order to benefit from their expertise and to foster support, understanding, buy-in, and trust, and to demonstrate respect for the educators and other school personnel who have been supporting students throughout the pandemic. In addition, school reopening planning should include student and parent representatives, and individuals and organizations that represent the interests of students, staff, and parents with disabilities, who have limited English proficiency, or who have transportation needs; others with access and functional needs; and State and local legal officials, so that specific interests and legal requirements are considered in the early stages of planning.


Schools should prioritize in-person learning over in-person extracurricular and athletics programs and activities, in keeping with CDC recommendations for safe levels of interaction depending on the extent of community transmission of COVID-19.

Music, PE & Extracurriculars

In general, schools should aim to continue to offer music, performing arts, physical education, health education, and athletics programs as part of a well-rounded education for all students during the COVID-19 public health emergency, even if some activities may need to be offered virtually.

  • For music and performing arts, CDC recommends masks be worn by all students and staff when not playing an instrument that requires the use of their mouth (unless the program is outdoors and at least 6 feet of distance can be maintained).
  • When singing, individuals should wear a mask.
  • Schools can consider holding music and performing arts classes outside or in an open environment or under an open tent, if safe from other hazards, such as heat, cold, and air pollution.
  • If the class is held indoors, ensure that it occurs in healthy facilities, including by optimizing ventilation.
  • Transparent shields or physical barriers can be used to separate students, and, as previously described, cohorting/podding is another option to minimize class size.
  • Teachers can use a portable amplifier to keep voices at a low, conversational volume and should limit the exchange (or sharing) of any instruments, parts, music sheets, or any other items.
  • Depending on the instrument, disposable absorbent pads or other receptacles, where possible, should be provided to catch the contents of spit valves.
  • Teachers can consider using “bell covers” for the openings of brass instruments and specially designed bags with hand openings for woodwind instruments to minimize the generation of droplets and aerosols.

Sports Practices

CDC recommends that schools conduct sports activities in ways that reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 to players, families, coaches, and communities, which may include considering which sports can be safely played, prioritizing outdoor sports or sports that involve the least physical contact, and mask wearing.

In communities with high rates of transmission, CDC further recommends that indoor athletics be postponed or conducted virtually.

In communities with low, moderate, or substantial rates of COVID19 transmission, districts and schools should consider the following to try to safely maintain student access to athletic programs while ensuring compliance with the nondiscrimination laws:  

  • Prioritizing sports that pose fewer risks.
  • Outdoor sports that allow for physical distancing are safer than indoor sports.
  • Sports that require frequent closeness or contact between players, or that involve shared equipment, may make it more difficult to maintain physical distancing and, therefore, may present increased risk for COVID-19 spread.
  • Consider which sports are feasible given the level of community transmission, and avoid high contact sports, which are associated with greater risks. To determine which sports are safer to play during the COVID-19 pandemic, consider the following:
    • Ability to play outdoors
    • Ability to wear a mask during the activity
    • Physical closeness of players during play
    • Amount of necessary touching of shared equipment and gear
    • Ability to engage in physical distancing while not actively engaged in play, such as when on the bench or sideline
    • Players’ age and ability to comply with physical distancing and other protective actions
    • Size of the team and field of play
    • Presence of nonessential visitors or volunteers during practices or games
    • Travel required outside of the local community
  • Limiting cross-school transfer for special programs, especially beyond the community. For youth sports considerations, visit the CDC FAQs for Youth Sports Programs (e.g., physical distancing, wearing masks).
  • Providing prepackaged boxes or bags if food or snacks are offered.
  • Considering eliminating use of locker rooms if they are small and poorly ventilated or do not allow for physical distancing. Advise students to come to the athletic activity in clothes that are appropriate for participation in the athletic program.
  • Limiting or prohibiting spectators and any nonessential visitors, volunteers, and activities involving external groups or organizations as possible – especially with individuals who are not from the local geographic area (e.g., community, town, city, county).
  • Avoiding equipment sharing and, if unavoidable, cleaning shared equipment between use by different students. Used equipment can be collected in a central container placed in the middle of the gym, marked for cleaning, or schools can 20 personalize gym equipment and make students or cohorts/pods responsible for maintaining their own equipment.
  • Ensuring consistent wearing of masks, aligned with guidance for gyms and fitness facilities, indicating that masks should cover the mouth and nose, be fit to the face, and should be worn during indoor and outdoor physical conditioning and training or physical education classes (except when showering, at which time students should maintain physical distance). Students should take a break from exercise if any difficulty in breathing is noted and should change their mask or face covering if it becomes wet, sticks to the face, or obstructs breathing. Masks that restrict airflow under heavy exertion are not advised for exercise.
  • Using a microphone and speaker and any other needed accommodation for students with IEPs or 504 plans when coaches or instructors deliver instructions. The use of face coverings and the need for students to spread out to maintain physical distance may make it more difficult for coaches to be heard.
  • Encouraging physical distancing during times when players are not actively participating in practice or competition. For example, teams can increase space between players on the sideline, in the dugout, or on the bench. Consider posting signs or visual cues on the ground or walls to indicate appropriate spacing distance. Additionally, coaches can encourage athletes to spread out for individual skillbuilding work or cardiovascular conditioning, rather than staying clustered together. As described in the CDC K-12 Operational Strategy, activities that cannot be done while athletes maintain physical distancing are only recommended when there is a low (blue) level of community transmission.
  • Not holding indoor practices for outdoor sports, and, where feasible, holding practices outdoors for indoor sports.
  • Limiting or avoiding team meetings or social activities or holding such activities virtually.
  • Avoiding travel to areas with high levels of community transmission and travel when a team is located in an area with high community transmission.
  • Disinfect the field house, weight room, and other areas after each time a group uses them and thoroughly cleans locker rooms.
  • Live streaming of the event is provided.


The CDC recommends collaboration with local public health officials in compliance with applicable privacy laws, including FERPA and PPRA, on such matters as supporting diagnostic testing for symptomatic students, educators, and staff and determining ways to communicate with families about symptom check policies and tools. For students, teachers, and staff who receive a positive test or diagnosis of COVID19, collaborations with public health officials are necessary to conduct contact tracing and identify close contacts for referrals to diagnostic testing and quarantine. Collaboration with local public health officials should also include decisions regarding any prioritization for vaccinations.

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