Changing Guidance in Schools: Masks, Tests, and When to Stay Home

Happy children at school posing for the camera

COVID-19 cases have come down across Washington, and as we move into the next phase of the pandemic there have been some big changes in the guidance that schools, early learning, and childcare facilities need to follow to keep students and staff safe. It’s a lot to keep track of, so let’s look at some of the highlights. (Read our March 9th news release announcing these changes)

Masks are no longer universally required in schools, early learning, and childcare centers. However, there are some situations where masks may be required, including potential clusters or outbreaks of COVID-19 in a classroom or group of students. And — districts may choose to keep their masking requirements intact if they prefer.

Some children, students, and staff may choose to keep wearing masks and that’s ok. People may be immunocompromised or live with someone who is. Wearing a well-fitting mask protects you and the people around you, helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It’s important to treat everyone with respect whether they are wearing a mask or not.

The changes may cause different reactions for different people. Some may be excited for mask requirements to end, while it may make others anxious. It will take time for everyone to adjust, and there are resources to help. The Behavioral Health Toolbox is a great resource for families, or you can find more mental health resources at the Washington State COVID-19 response page.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the requirement for students, children, and staff to stay home if they have symptoms of COVID-19. If you’re feeling sick, make sure to get tested or see your health provider. Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 is required to isolate at home for 10 days from the start of symptoms or the date of a positive test. The isolation period can be shortened to five days if symptoms have improved or they are asymptomatic, and if they haven’t had a fever for 24 hours. If a person returns before the full 10 days of isolation, they either must wear a well-fitting mask or have a negative antigen test. If you need help finding a test, your school or childcare provider may be able to help. Your family can also sign up to receive free, rapid, at-home COVID-19 test kits through “Say Yes! COVID Test.”

Another difference parents will see is with exposure notifications. Schools and childcare providers are required to notify staff and immunocompromised or high-risk students if they’re exposed to COVID-19. For everyone else, a general notification of cases or outbreaks in a school or childcare setting may come from an email, newsletter, or a website dashboard.

The Department of Health is encouraging schools, early learning, and childcare centers to rely on multiple ways to prevent COVID-19 from spreading, including staying up to date on vaccinations, wearing masks, enhancing ventilation, conducting rapid testing, and having children and staff stay home when they’re sick. Everyone will need to be flexible, as guidance and requirements may change based on community transmission, local outbreaks, and vaccination rates.

For the latest information on the COVID-19 situation in Washington, visit our COVID-19 website or call our COVID-19 Information hotline: 1–800–525–0127. Press # for language assistance.

More Information

This blog is accurate as of the date of posting. Information changes rapidly, so check the state’s COVID-19 website for the most up-to-date info at coronavirus.wa.gov. You can also sign up to be notified whenever we post new articles.

The COVID-19 vaccine is now available to everyone 5 and older. For more information about the vaccine, visit CovidVaccineWA.org and use the vaccine locator tool to find an appointment. The COVID-19 vaccine is provided at no cost to you.

WA Notify can alert you if you’ve been near another user who tested positive for COVID-19. Add WA Notify to your phone today: WANotify.org

Find answers to your questions or concerns about COVID-19 in Washington state at our website. You can also contact the Department of Health call center at 1–800–525–0127 and press # from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday, and 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday — Sunday and observed state holidays. Language assistance is available.

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Washington State Department of Health

Washington State Department of Health

Protecting and improving the health of people in Washington State.