As district leaders prepare for a fourth pandemic school year, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has issued guidance aimed at keeping schools open while mitigating COVID-19 risk.

Noting that school closures should be a last resort, CDPH stated that “disease management strategies in K-12 schools are guided by the principle that safe, in-person learning is critical to student well-being and development.”

The guidance and suggested precautions come as a new wave of infections emerges and omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 have become increasingly dominant.

Schools should consider using antigen tests for detecting COVID-19 instead of primarily relying on PCR tests, the agency said. Additionally, students and staff should get tested before they return to school after major vacation breaks.

If a student is diagnosed with COVID-19, they should stay home for at least five days and wear a well-fitting mask for 10 days around others, especially in indoor spaces, according to CDPH.

But overall, temporary school or classroom closures due to a COVID-19 outbreak “should remain a last resort and considered only after all available resources have been exhausted, and only after conferring with local health officials.”

CDPH encouraged K-12 leaders to review statutory requirements on vaccinations for entry into schools. In addition, it recommended that everyone eligible get vaccinated against COVID-19 and stay up to date on those shots.

Leaders should also look at ways to improve indoor air quality through effective ventilation and filtration, which can help prevent the spread of COVID-19.