FAQs about COVID Prevention and Reporting in Delaware Schools
- Delaware’s Division of Public Health (DPH) reviews the available science and evidence from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO), as well as from other experts such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), to guide health recommendations.
- DPH works closely with the Delaware Department of Education (DOE) to help schools understand and translate the science, which is constantly emerging, to implement in schools.
- Mitigation strategies such as wearing face coverings, social distancing, cleaning, disinfecting, handwashing, ensuring ventilation, quarantining of exposed close contacts, and prompt isolation of identified COVID positive individuals work optimally when layered and applied with fidelity in all community settings.
- DPH will review each reported positive case and make recommendations based solely on the facts presented for each unique situation. School nurses, in consultation with DPH Liaisons and COVID Coordinators as needed, can make initial determinations about quarantining close contacts until the epidemiology team receives the positive lab results and initiates contact tracing. The school nurse will act using criteria established by the CDC and DPH. If any questions arise, the school nurse and DPH Liaison will consult the epidemiology team. Each case will be assessed using the available facts, and actions taken will depend on the unique nature of each individual case.
- DPH’s epidemiology team relies on individuals to cooperate and collaborate to ensure the health and safety of students and staff in schools. This requires that all adults and students practice mitigation strategies in school and in the community, including isolation, quarantine, and contact tracing
- A positive student case has been reported to our school. What are the first steps that the school nurse and/or COVID Coordinator take?
- What if we have a situation that needs a response quickly so schools can make an operational decision, such as whether a group of students needs to stay home or not go to sports practice?
- Will OIDE issue "clearance" letters to students or staff specifying when they may return to school?
- What is the protocol for siblings or other household members of a positive case?
- Who in the community gets told when there is a positive case?
- Will OIDE call the school to alert staff of a positive case?
- What should we do if we receive results of a positive case and that individual is at school?
- How should we clean after having sick students or staff at school?
- Who is considered a close contact?
- What if exposure may have taken place at lunch or recess?
- What is the difference between isolation and quarantine?
- What should you do if you are a parent (or teacher) and think you or your child(ren) have been exposed or receive information that you are a close contact of a positive individual?
- How would parents or staff find out if they are a close contact?
- Why did the State change from person-based test reporting to test-based, and what does that mean?
- Who are the DPH Liaisons and what is their role?
- What strategies should schools be using to mitigate the spread of coronavirus?
- Is there guidance for situations when we cannot adhere to some or all of the mitigation strategies?
- Are all schools, including private and parochial schools, required to adhere to the Return to School Guidance?
- How should face coverings be handled at lunchtime?
- Are face coverings required for Physical Education (PE) and/or recess?
- Are face coverings required for athletics?
- If six feet is the widely accepted distance to mitigate against the spread of coronavirus, why is three feet allowed in schools? How was this distance identified as safe?
- With CDC’s new recommendations about the way coronavirus is transmitted through air droplets or the potential definition of close contacts, is it safe for students to be in schools?
- When can students or staff return to work/school following quarantine or isolation?
- How will schools know when students or staff are "cleared"?
- Should we require a negative test before we allow a student or staff member back to school/work?
- How can schools promote healthy practices?
- How do we know how many positive cases there are in a school community?
- How can we use data to determine risk to our school community?
- When should a school be closed?
- How should we address individuals that do not or cannot comply with mitigation strategies at school or in the community, including staff and/or contractors?
- If we want to have events for our school community, how can we plan to do so safely?
Positive Cases, Close Contacts, and Exposures [ Top ]
A positive student case has been reported to our school. What are the first steps that the school nurse and/or COVID Coordinator take?
District/charter/school leaders or school nurses (school personnel) should gather as much information as possible including: name, DOB, onset of symptoms, date tested, date positive results received, the last date the child was in school or around other students outside of school, and as many other details about the case as possible. The school nurses have a COVID data collection form you can download, developed by DPH and provided to the lead school nurses, which will greatly expedite the investigation and contact tracing process.
School personnel should then convey the following to the family of the positive case:
- If a student has a symptomatic POSITIVE case of COVID-19, the student must isolate for at least 10 days from the onset of symptoms until at least 24 hours of symptom improvement without fever while not on fever-reducing medication.
- If a student has an asymptomatic POSITIVE case of COVID-19, the student must isolate for 10 days following the test date (specimen collection date) with no symptoms.
School personnel should convey the following to the families of close contacts:
- If a student is a close contact of a positive case, the student must quarantine for 10 days from the date of his or her last exposure to the positive case member, or 7 days with a negative PCR or Antigen test on the 5th day after exposure, or later. Example: if exposure was on a Tuesday, a test could be taken as early as Sunday. If negative, the quarantine period could end and normal activities could resume on Tuesday (7 days after exposure).This is based on new guidance from CDC. Please be patient with DPH while we transition our system to incorporate this new guidance. This protocol will begin on January 11.
- School personnel should also convey that DPH may change the above advice on the number of close contacts once DPH has completed its contact tracing investigation.
Then, school personnel should contact the Office of Infectious Disease Epidemiology (OIDE) to report a notifiable disease. Epidemiologists can discuss cases/possible cases and the best course of action for the schools.
- OIDE On-Call: / 1-888-295-5156 (24/7 access), Option #2;
or if no callback in 24 hours for non-urgent calls (see below for urgent or emergent cases),
- Duty Officer On-Call: / 302-744-4700 (backup contact), Option #6
If schools do not need consultation or assistance from OIDE, they can send an email with the relevant information and completed form to firstname.lastname@example.org rather than calling OIDE.
School personnel should provide a review of the steps that have already been taken and contact information for the positive case and close contacts in the school environment. DPH will then launch a contact tracing investigation.
What if we have a situation that needs a response quickly so schools can make an operational decision, such as whether a group of students needs to stay home or not go to sports practice?
In the majority of cases, school personnel should be able to make these initial decisions on their own using the above criteria. However, when a school needs DPH advice before proceeding, school personnel should call OIDE and when leaving the initial message or speaking with an epidemiologist, should state that the situation is "emergent" (goal of response within 1 hour) or "urgent" (goal of response within 4 hours). The level of urgency is based on operations, not on medical acuity. For example, if a sports team should not be practicing or students should stay home, the epidemiologists should know this at the start of the case investigation.
Will OIDE issue "clearance" letters to students or staff specifying when they may return to school?
Yes, however, due to case volumes, these letters may be delayed. If a student or staff has not received a clearance letter, a school nurse, in consultation with the lead nurse and COVID Coordinator, may clear a student or staff after verifying that the below protocol has been followed:
- Asymptomatic positive cases may return to school after 10 days from the date of a positive test.
- Symptomatic positive cases may return to school 10 days from the onset of symptoms as long as they have seen 24 hours of symptom improvement without fever while not on fever-reducing medication. Schools may choose to require a doctor’s note before return to school for symptomatic positive cases.
Close contacts may return to school:
- 10 days from the date of their last exposure to the positive case member,
- 7 days with a negative PCR or Antigen test on the 5th day after exposure, or later, provided they are not exhibiting symptoms and have not had any new exposure.
What is the protocol for siblings or other household members of a positive case?
If a person tests positive in the same household as a student or staff member, the student or staff member must quarantine immediately and must continue quarantining for 10 additional days from the date that the positive case is "cleared", which in general is 5-7 days after the positive case tested positive. This means a household member of a positive case must quarantine for 20 days. The exception to this policy is if the positive case is able to isolate within the house and has no exposure to the other household members. In that case, the household member may return to school 10 days from their last exposure to the positive case. Note that the quarantine period can be decreased by 3 days with a negative PCR or antigen test on the 5th day since the last exposure, or later.
If there is confusion about the facts of the case, school personnel or the parent should call OIDE.
Who in the community gets told when there is a positive case?
- LEAs/schools should implement their usual procedures for notification of infectious diseases to the school community, per state, local district, or school policy and practice for infectious disease management.
The school will notify the school community when a person who tested positive was in the school building while students were present.
- There may be additional non-identifying information a school may wish to include in its notification letter, such as the reported date of exposure, or the grade or class of the positive case. The Division of Public Health does not make determinations on which information may be shared, and schools are encouraged to consult their legal counsel should they wish to establish a policy for releasing this type of non-identifying information. Governor Carney’s State of Emergency declaration requires that all local education agencies, private schools, and parochial schools must notify parents/guardians, school personnel, and students ages 18 and up if the school becomes aware that a person who tested positive was in the school building at the same time as students.
- Schools are encouraged, but not required, to report positive faculty cases to any on-site faculty when students are not present (i.e. when schools are remote-only but faculty are together on-site).
Will OIDE call the school to alert staff of a positive case?
Although this is the process, it is more likely that the school will be notified by a student, parent or family member, or staff member that they are positive before OIDE receives the lab results. As such, the school will need to act before OIDE can begin its official investigation or contact tracing.
What should we do if we receive results of a positive case and that individual is at school?
- Isolate the suspected case of COVID-19 in an area separated from other students and staff and notify parents/guardians to pick up the student as soon as possible.
- Compose a list of in-school close contacts to be quarantined, place those individuals in an area separated from other students and staff, and notify parents/guardians to pick up students as soon as possible. If more than one student is in isolation because of a confirmed positive test, but the status of a student is unknown, those students should be separated, even if the second student is exhibiting symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
- Limit movement among students and staff in the impacted area.
- If there is a medical emergency, call 911.
How should we clean after having sick students or staff at school?
If a positive case is connected to an individual office or other space that can be left vacant for up to 24 hours, this is best and will allow the viral load to reduce before cleaning and disinfection take place. If the positive case is associated with a classroom or other essential space, regular disinfection and cleaning should take place before the next school day. If enhanced cleaning has been taking place, then those procedures should be continued, and additional or specific cleaning should not be necessary. Enhanced cleaning will reduce risk and should be continued. Commonly touched surfaces (doorknobs, railings, etc.) must be cleaned every 15 minutes to 2 hours. It is vital that an EPA-approved disinfectant, or prepared bleach solution, be used to ensure effectiveness against COVID-19. CDC and EPA have guidance for cleaning and disinfecting schools and a simple decision tool for assistance.
Who is considered a close contact?
CDC’s definition of close contact is someone who has been in close proximity (within 6 feet) of a laboratory-confirmed or probable COVID-19 individual for a total of 15 minutes or more on either or both of the two days (48 hours) prior to the individual’s symptom onset or positive test. If sitting in the classroom, individuals should not be considered close contacts if they are at least 3 feet apart, properly wearing a face covering and with all individuals facing the same direction. In all other school settings, individuals who meet the 15-minute total time of exposure while less than 6 feet should be considered close contacts.
The decision to quarantine students or teachers should be based on known potential for exposure. To assist schools in identifying close contacts, consider the following questions. If schools are able to answer the below questions as follows, then it is unlikely an entire class or school would need to quarantine:
- Are classrooms set up with desks at least 3 feet apart, facing forward? Yes
- Are precautions taken to ensure students are spaced 6 feet apart while waiting in line? Yes
- Are masks worn at all times except during lunch, snack, sips of water, etc.? Yes
- Other than when seated at desks, do all organized activities ensure that students are not closer than 6 feet from each other for more than incidental contact? Yes
- Other than when seated at their desks, have school personnel witnessed students spending more than 15 minutes of time less than 6 feet apart from the positive student? No
What if exposure may have taken place at lunch or recess?
- If students are outdoors, 6 feet apart, without masks – no quarantine necessary
- If students are outdoors, closer than 6 feet, without masks – quarantine is necessary
- If students are indoors, 6 feet apart, without masks while eating – no quarantine necessary
- If students are indoors, closer than 6 feet, without masks while eating – quarantine is necessary
- If students are outdoors, masked, and school personnel are not aware of sustained* contact closer than 6 feet – no quarantine necessary *Note: incidental contact, such as briefly running past another student, does not require quarantine. Examples of sustained contact include: playing basketball or football.
- If students are indoors, masked, and school personnel are not aware of sustained* contact closer than 6 feet – no quarantine necessary *Note: incidental contact, such as briefly running past another student, does not require quarantine. Examples of sustained contact include: playing basketball or football.
What is the difference between isolation and quarantine?
Isolation and quarantine help protect the public by preventing exposure to people who have or may have a contagious disease.
- Isolation separates sick people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick.
- Quarantine separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick. Quarantine is a required precaution to protect others from exposure should the person become positive after an exposure. Quarantine is considered a mitigation strategy; it is not just implemented during an outbreak situation. Source: https://www.cdc.gov/quarantine/index.html
It is likely that schools will have more individuals identified and out of school because they are quarantined – identified as close contacts of positive cases – rather than positive cases in isolation.
What should you do if you are a parent (or teacher) and think you or your child(ren) have been exposed or receive information that you are a close contact of a positive individual?
The parent/teacher should contact the school nurse, who will work with the school to ensure learning continuity for students through virtual learning during the quarantine period. Once the case who exposed the person has been interviewed, contact tracers will reach out to anyone identified as a close contact and conduct an interview and recommend quarantine. The school nurse does not need to contact OIDE for exposures unrelated to school personnel or students, as these cases will be identified by contact tracers. If DPH learns of the school-related positive case first, a DPH Liaison will contact the school nurse.
How would parents or staff find out if they are a close contact?
Again, the school may find out before OIDE receives lab results, so the school may make the first contact about an exposure. Once OIDE receives the lab results and initiates an investigation, individuals will receive a call from the epidemiologist/contact tracer within 24 hours. This does not mean that close contacts will receive a call within 24 hours of being informed of being a potential contact by the school; rather 24 hours from when OIDE initiates the investigation. If staff are not close contacts, DPH will not notify them of any positive cases in the school setting.
Why did the State change from person-based test reporting to test-based, and what does that mean?
Before, Delaware reported testing results based on a person-based methodology. If a person tested negative multiple times, they were only counted once. That does not give us an accurate picture of the current landscape of Delaware’s COVID rate, since a test is only accurate as of the time it is taken. As a small state, the denominator stops increasing significantly after many have been tested, while the numerator goes up with each new positive, leading to a somewhat misleading account of the state of spread in our state. The test-based methodology counts someone who tested negative three times as three unique tests. This gives us a more accurate picture of the state of COVID-19 spread in Delaware. This is the way Johns Hopkins and CDC track cases, and it is also how the majority of states track cases, including those who have put us on a quarantine list.
Who are the DPH Liaisons and what is their role?
DPH Liaisons are assigned to school districts, charters, and private/parochial schools to provide a connection to DPH.
DPH Liaisons can:
- Respond to specific case-related questions in coordination with DPH epidemiology/contact tracers
- Advise on situation-specific questions
- Review policies and procedures
- Share information between DPH, Department of Education, and school districts/charters and schools
- Provide support and guidance to school nurses, as needed
- Connect schools with DPH epidemiologists
- Present information to staff, parents, and/or school community
- Review materials or presentations developed by schools/districts
- Disseminate research, findings, or guidelines developed
DPH Liaisons cannot:
- Provide personnel advice about employee benefits, leave, etc.
- Provide legal guidance
- Serve as epidemiologists, contact tracers, or testing advisors
- Make final decisions for schools or districts related to policy or guidance to students or faculty
- Require any actions
- Serve as regulators or enforcers
Implementing Mitigation Strategies In and Out of School [ Top ]
What strategies should schools be using to mitigate the spread of coronavirus?
Delaware’s Returning to School Guidance details the primary mitigation strategies that schools can use to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, including:
- Wearing face coverings according to the Governor’s Twenty-Seventh Modification to the Emergency Order and guidance from the Delaware Division of Public Health.
- Maintaining social distancing of student desks at a minimum of 3 feet with additional measures such as facing the same direction while seated, mask use, and cohorting classes to minimize crossover among children and adults within the school. Ensuring at least 6 feet distance between individuals when not seated.
- Ensuring access to and time for handwashing facilities and supplies or hand sanitizer.
- Cleaning and frequently disinfecting frequently touched surfaces.
- Ensuring proper ventilation in school spaces.
- Keeping students and staff in stable cohorts to the extent practicable.
- Identifying and quarantining exposed close contacts for the complete quarantine period.
The mitigation strategies are intended to be layered to work optimally. No one strategy is sufficient alone, but together, strategies will mitigate the spread of coronavirus in schools.
Is there guidance for situations when we cannot adhere to some or all of the mitigation strategies?
The Delaware Department of Education’s Mitigation Strategies: Working with Students with Special Needs provides considerations for teachers and school staff to address many situations when mitigation strategies, such as mask wearing, cannot be implemented for all students or for the entire school day.
Are all schools, including private and parochial schools, required to adhere to the Return to School Guidance?
Yes, the Governor’s Twenty-Seventh Modification to the Emergency Order specifies that ALL schools in Delaware must adhere to the Return to School Guidance and requirements outlined therein.
Face Coverings [ Top ]
How should face coverings be handled at lunchtime?
Students should wash their hands as they transition from class to lunch before they remove their masks. Students should be seated 6 feet away from each other, not sitting across from each other, remain seated while eating, and minimize talking or socializing during eating. As soon students are finished eating, they should replace their mask and use hand sanitizer or wash their hands again.
Are face coverings required for Physical Education (PE) and/or recess?
If students are indoors, they must wear face coverings during PE, and should engage in activities that promote social distancing. Students should also clean their hands after physical education, particularly if shared materials were used as part of the lesson (i.e. balls, parachutes, etc.).
Given the nature of free play during recess and children's natural inclination to group together to play, it may be difficult to ensure that students maintain social distancing. According to the Governor’s Twenty-Seventh Modification to the Emergency Order, "[s]tudents in Kindergarten and above shall wear face coverings while inside child care homes and centers and at schools at all times except for meals, naps, or when doing so would inhibit the child’s health. If outside at a child care home or center or at a school, face coverings shall be worn by students (Kindergarten and above) if social distancing cannot be maintained."
Are face coverings required for athletics?
All school-based athletics are overseen by the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association (DIAA). DIAA’s regulations adhere to the Governor’s Twenty-Seventh Modification to the Emergency Order that outlines required mitigation strategies, including face coverings, for low-, medium-, and high-risk sports. DIAA regulations and guidance specify acceptable types of face coverings for select sports, including high-risk helmeted sports.
Social Distancing [ Top ]
If six feet is the widely accepted distance to mitigate against the spread of coronavirus, why is three feet allowed in schools? How was this distance identified as safe?
In its considerations for schools, the American Academy of Pediatrics looked at data from other countries that re-opened schools and safely used 3 feet (1 meter) as the minimum distance between students. AAP's recommendations state:"Schools should weigh the benefits of strict adherence to a 6-feet spacing rule between students with the potential downside if remote learning is the only alternative." According to Delaware's 27th Modification to the Emergency Order, individuals must remain six feet apart, however, the 27th modification also allows for districts’ and schools’ discretion to allow students to be spaced 3 feet apart (or 1 meter). The 3 feet only applies if face coverings are properly worn, and students must be seated and face the same direction.
Delaware’s Return to School guidance was designed to reflect this balance of safety and providing educational opportunities for students. The guidance is intended to provide maximum flexibility for school leaders to consider capacity and meet demand, while promoting layered mitigation strategies.
When students are seated three (3) feet apart, they must all be wearing face coverings and facing the same direction, and ideally cohorting of classes is also used to minimize crossover among children and adults within the school. Three (3) feet can be used in classroom and similar settings when students remain in place and are not expected to move around. Consider outdoor settings as weather allows.
With CDC’s new recommendations about the way coronavirus is transmitted through air droplets or the potential definition of close contacts, is it safe for students to be in schools?
Although CDC has identified additional information lending to the current understanding of how the virus spreads, this new information does not change any recommendations for the school setting. Schools should continue to implement layered mitigation strategies to mitigate risk to students and staff.
Returning to School/Work Process and Letters [ Top ]
When can students or staff return to work/school following quarantine or isolation?
OIDE and the assigned epidemiologist/contact tracer will provide individuals with specific instructions on when they can return to work/school. Individuals who tested positive are asked to isolate for 10 days from the positive test or the onset of symptoms. The individuals must also be fever free, without the use of fever reducing medication, and show an improvement of symptoms for a minimum of 24 hours before returning to work or school. If a student or staff member is a close contact of a positive case, the student must quarantine for 10 days from the date of his or her last exposure to the positive case member, or 7 days with a negative PCR or Antigen test on the 5th day after exposure, or later. NOTE: This is based on new guidance from CDC. Please be patient with DPH while we transition our system to incorporate this new guidance.
How will schools know when students or staff are "cleared"?
DPH will provide a letter that states the date of return for each person; individuals should request the letter during the first discussion with the contact tracer/epidemiologist. Individuals need to complete their case investigation and monitoring in order to receive a letter. If the individual is an out-of-state resident, the individual will need to contact the out-of-state public health authority. However, a school nurse, in consultation with the lead nurse and COVID Coordinator, may clear a student or staff after verifying that appropriate DPH protocols for isolation or quarantine have been followed.
Should we require a negative test before we allow a student or staff member back to school/work?
DPH currently uses a symptom- or time-based method for deciding the duration of isolation periods, as some individuals may continue to test positive for COVID for 90 days without being infectious. If a student or staff member is a close contact of a positive case, the student or staff member must quarantine for 10 days from the date of their last exposure to the positive case member, or 7 days with a negative PCR or Antigen test on the 5th day after exposure, or later.
Maintaining a Healthy School Community [ Top ]
How can schools promote healthy practices?
Schools should use layered mitigation strategies before, during, and after the school day. Families and staff should also be vigilant about mitigation strategies in the community and avoid large and even small gatherings, if socializing do so outdoors when possible, wear face coverings, and maintain as much distance as possible from others while in the community.
How do we know how many positive cases there are in a school community?
The My Healthy Community site currently reports school and county level data. DPH is working with DOE to update the dashboard to best inform decision making.
The cumulative number of positive cases reported in schools across the state is reported each Friday in a press release with the week’s total case numbers.
How can we use data to determine risk to our school community?
Although county or even zip code level data can be helpful at identifying where cases may be higher, these data alone cannot determine schools’ decisions. Schools should consider the full context of the situation including where the cases in the community may be occurring and the number of reported cases within a school, as well as overall state-wide trends. Given the inherent variability in data on a daily or weekly basis, responses should be driven by consistent trends and not by snapshots of data at a given time.
When should a school be closed?
If recommended mitigation strategies are implemented effectively, it’s very unlikely an entire school would need to close to reduce spread of infection within the school. However, there may be other reasons to close a school, such as staffing shortages, operational limitations, community preference, or strategic planning for future sustainable in-person learning.
How should we address individuals that do not or cannot comply with mitigation strategies at school or in the community, including staff and/or contractors?
School leaders should encourage and model mitigation strategies in schools and work with families and staff to promote these practices outside of school. Schools should work with their legal counsel and identify their rights and obligations under a variety of laws and regulations, including but not limited to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as the Governor’s Emergency Orders and subsequent modifications.
For additional ideas for addressing situations when students are unable to use all of the mitigation strategies, please see Mitigation Strategies: Working with Students with Special Needs.
If we want to have events for our school community, how can we plan to do so safely?
Schools must implement layered mitigation strategies in and out of school, including at events. However, knowing that gatherings are important to build community – from sporting events to movie nights to recognition ceremonies – schools should create plans for larger events that account for how they will maintain distance between participants, ensure that participants wear face coverings, provide access to handwashing or hand sanitizer, and clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces. Schools can submit plans to HSPcontact@delaware.gov for approval.