K-12 Schools and Childcare Facilities
Things to Know:
- When is it Safe to Return? Public Health has created a home isolation decision-maker tool to help individuals know when it's safe to be around others after being sick with COVID-19.
- Guidance Updates MCDPH has updated its isolation and quarantine guidance documents to align with recent CDC updates. We are updating additional K-12 communication materials on this page to align with these changes. In interim, please see CDC FAQs on K-12 quarantine and K-12 isolation.
- K-12 School Webinars Thursdays at 2PM! See information for school officials to sign up below.
- BinaxNOW Testing Information and demo video below in Monitoring for Illness
Reporting Cases and Exposures to Public Health
Maricopa County K-12 school nurses or administrators and childcare providers should use our online reporting form below to report confirmed cases of COVID-19 and exposures, specifically:
- Single or multiple cases of confirmed COVID-19 in students/children, teachers, and staff
- Identified close contacts in the facility (exposed persons) including students/children, teachers, and staff
- A suspected outbreak*
*MCDPH defines school outbreaks as follows:
- ≥2 laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases among students/children or staff with onsets within a 14-day period, who are epidemiologically-linked, do not share a household, and were not identified as close contacts of each other in another setting during standard case investigation or contact tracing
For non-COVID school/childcare reportable conditions PDF PDF PDF PDF PDF , please continue to report to public health by completing a Communicable Disease Reporting Form PDF PDF PDF PDF PDF and faxing the completed forms to 602-372-8935.
To complete this form, please be prepared to report:
- School or childcare point of contact information
- Email address required; please include your childcare facility-associated or school-associated email address
- Basic school or facility information
- Information about case(s):
- Contact information
- Test date for PCR or antigen laboratory results
- Symptom onset date
- Grade / homeroom / classroom
- Date of last attendance
After successful submission of the form, the point-of-contact will automatically receive guidance material via email from Public Health that will aid with managing facility or campus-related exposures, contact tracing, and notifying parents and staff.
For questions regarding use of the online reporting form, please contact us.
Schools and childcare facilities are encouraged to report cases using the online school reporting form above, but MCDPH will continue to accept and process the previously-available paper-based form via fax.
Public Health Guidance and Flow Charts
MCDPH is updating our investigation process for cases in the K-12 school setting. As of 8/25/21, we are providing in-school close contacts (both student families and staff) with a letter from MCDPH via the school notifying them of their exposure and that they are to quarantine (if unvaccinated, not infected with COVID-19 in the last 90 days, or not considered an essential employee by the school).
Below are copies of this letter for student families and staff. These are provided for awareness only.
- MCDPH Letter to In-School COVID-19 Close Contact – Student (PDF) Being updated
- MCDPH Letter to In-School COVID-19 Close Contact – Staff (PDF) Being updated
Quarantine and Isolation Guidance
**UPDATE 1/13/22--MCDPH has updated its isolation and quarantine guidance documents below to align with recently revised CDC recommendations. Additional K-12 supplementary guidance documents are in the process of being updated and will be added to this page once available. In interim, please see CDC FAQs on K-12 quarantine and K-12 isolation.
- Quarantine guidance and flow chart for household and close contacts of a person with COVID-19:
English (PDF - Rev. 01/07/22) | Spanish (PDF) Spanish translation being updated
- Home isolation guidance and flow chart for people who test positive or have symptoms consistent with COVID-19:
English (PDF - Rev. 01/07/22) | Spanish (PDF) Spanish translation being updated
- Steps to Take if Student or Staff is Diagnosed with COVID-19 for K-12 Schools (PDF) Being updated
Notice of Exposure/Outbreak & Medical Absence Template Letters
- School & Childcare Child or Staff Exposure: English | Spanish (Word) Being updated
- School Outbreak Notification Letter: English | Spanish (Word) Being updated
- Public Health Statement for Medical Absence: English | Spanish (PDF - Rev. 10/15/20)
Prevention and Mitigation Guidance for Schools
Additional guidance resources:
- School Transportation Guidance (PDF - Rev. 07/21/21)
- Isolation Room Guidance (PDF - Rev. 07/21/21)
Monitoring for Illness
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.
All students and staff, including vaccinated people, should monitor for symptoms, since vaccine breakthrough infections can occur.
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
*Children should not be sent home if fatigue is their sole symptom.
Check the CDC website for the latest list of symptoms associated with COVID-19.
For children or staff who have symptoms consistent with COVID-19, see the information about home isolation on our Sick or Exposed to COVID-19 page.
The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) and Maricopa County Department of Public Health (MCDPH) have worked to develop a system to supply schools with BinaxNOW Self-Tests for the rapid detection of COVID-19 in K-12 students and staff. This testing program augments resources already available in the community and in schools including existing BinaxNOW testing initiatives, pooled testing provided through ADHS, and community testing events and sites such as retail pharmacies. See instructions for ordering and use of tests in the documents below.
- BinaxNOW Antigen Self-Tests Guidance Letter (PDF - 08/02/21)
- BinaxNOW Antigen Self-Test Instructions (English/Spanish) (PDF - 08/06/21)
- BinaxNOW Self-Test Information Sheet for Families and Staff (English/Spanish) (PDF - 09/08/21)
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.
Return to School
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 masks, 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.
Yes, this is a federal mandate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an Order (effective Feb. 1, 2021) that requires face masks to be worn by all people while on public transportation, including on school buses and other school vehicles. This order applies to all public, charter, and private schools.
The order requires all people to wear a mask, including those who have recovered from COVID-19 and those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. More information about the Federal order including FAQs and exemptions/exclusions can be found here Version OptionsK-12 Schools and Childcare Facilities Headline.
See MCDPH K-2 School Transportation guidance here Version OptionsK-12 Schools and Childcare Facilities Headline.
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 17% of all COVID-19 cases in Maricopa County to date have been among ages 0-19.
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 (see below for when is the best timing for having your child tested). You can use one of the free community testing sites, your child’s normal healthcare provider, 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.
If your child’s test is collected after a full 5 days of quarantine, you have received the test result and it is negative, the child has not had any symptoms since their last exposure to COVID-19, they might be able to end quarantine after 7 full days following their exposure. Please see our guidance for home quarantine for additional information regarding quarantine, including information about a shorter quarantine period with a negative test.
If you have any symptoms of illness, it's a good idea to get tested right away. If you aren't experiencing symptoms, testing is recommended any time after day 5 through day 14 of quarantine period. Please see our guidance for home quarantine for additional information regarding quarantine, including information about a shorter quarantine period with a negative test.
You can develop symptoms up to 14 days after close contact with an infectious person, so it's important to continue to wear a mask and monitor for symptoms for a full 14 days following exposure to COVID-19, regardless of when quarantine ends.
If your exposed child has no symptoms of illness or underlying health conditions, Public Health strongly recommends following the 10-day quarantine guidance. This includes staying home from school for 10 days, in addition to having your child wear a mask (if appropriate) and monitoring for symptoms for 14 days after your child’s last contact with the sick person. Quarantine can end after Day 10 without testing if no symptoms have been reported during daily monitoring. Since it can take 2-14 days to show symptoms of COVID-19, it is recommended symptom monitoring and mask wearing continue through Day 14 after exposure.
In special circumstances, it is possible to release from quarantine after 7 full days following your child’s known exposure date with a negative test result. The specific criteria to meet this exception are more fully outlined in the quarantine guidance. Please see our guidance for home quarantine for additional information regarding quarantine, including information about a shorter quarantine period with a negative test.
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.
While they sound similar, antigen tests are not the same as antibody tests. Antibody, or serology (blood) 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.
For questions regarding the need for isolation for a person with a negative PCR test collected within 24 hours of a positive rapid antigen test:
- A positive result on an antigen or PCR/NAAT test for COVID-19 indicates current/active infection and persons should begin isolation per MCDPH Home Isolation Guidance.
- MCDPH does not recommend serial/subsequent testing after obtaining a positive result.
- MCDPH advises that a person with a positive test isolate at home.
- If you receive a positive antigen result, you should consider yourself as having COVID-19 and should begin isolating at home (or continue if you had been instructed to do so pending the test results).
- Due to the lower sensitivity of some rapid antigen tests, these tests may be less likely to detect the virus when it is actually present. Antigen testing is most effective in identifying the virus in those with symptoms in the early stages of their infection. If there is still concern that a person has COVID-19 after a negative antigen test, it is recommend that person be tested again with a molecular (PCR) test.
For those situations where persons have taken multiple tests, recommendations for isolation can be dependent upon their test results and whether that person has symptoms. We understand these situations can be unique and confusing - please consult MCDPH for additional guidance by calling 602-506-6767.
In general, isolation recommendations for a person with a negative PCR test collected within 24 hours of a positive rapid antigen test are:
Antigen positive and PCR positive (collected within 24 hrs. of each other)
Isolate until they have completed the isolation period outlined in the MCDPH Home Isolation Guidance.
Isolate until they have completed the isolation period outlined in the MCDPH Home Isolation Guidance.
Antigen positive and PCR negative (collected within 24 hrs. of each other)
Isolate until at least 24 hours after symptoms have resolved or per your school’s illness policy. (Note: if person was recently exposed to COVID-19, follow recommendations in the MCDPH Quarantine Guidance.)
No isolation is needed at this time. (Note: if person was recently exposed to COVID-19, follow recommendations in the MCDPH Quarantine Guidance.)
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 2021-2022 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.
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 or ongoing 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 at 2PM for an informational call for schools 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, January 13, 2022 | Presentation Slides (PDF)
- Thursday, January 6, 2022 | Presentation Slides (PDF)
- Thursday, December 16, 2021 | Presentation Slides (PDF)
- View All Previous Sessions
Request School Staffing Assistance
The Provisional School Staffing program is a COVID-19 emergency response initiative designed to provide health office support staff to underserved schools. As the product of a health-inequity grant, this program prioritizes provisional school staffing through a COVID-19 prioritization rubric based on the needs of both the school and its surrounding community.
School Staff & Administration
If you are reporting cases of COVID-19 in your school or are seeking official guidance, please first see our Reporting Cases and Exposures section. Be sure to view our weekly webinars for the most updated guidance and answers to questions being asked by our school community. If further clarification on any topic 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.
- You can speak to someone directly by calling our CARES Team at 602-506-6767 Mon-Fri 8am to 5pm.
- You also can submit your questions through our Contact Us web form.