As Arizonans return from holiday break, many parts of our state are experiencing a high spread of COVID-19. The Arizona Department of Education encourages our public district and charter schools to continue utilizing existing mitigation strategies and to consider additional strategies to prevent COVID-19 from further impacting our students, teachers, and families. The following was compiled from an October 2021 science brief from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention:
“When prevention strategies are consistently and correctly used, the risk of SARS-CoV-2 [COVID-19] transmission in the school environment is decreased. Use of multiple strategies – also called layered prevention – provides greater protection in breaking transmission chains than implementing a single strategy” – Science Brief: Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in K-12 Schools and Early Care and Education Programs
Specific Strategies: 
  • Consistent and correct mask use reduces the spread of COVID-19. In K-12 settings, the CDC recommends universal indoor masking regardless of vaccination status.
  • Strategic physical distancing. When physical distancing is impossible, the consistent maintenance of other layered prevention strategies, notably masking and student cohorts, limits COVID-19 transmission. However, schools should prioritize a more significant physical distancing of at least 6 feet when people who are not fully vaccinated are interacting where masks cannot be used, such as eating lunch indoors.
  • Testing
    • Screening Testing is intended to identify persons who are infected but without symptoms (or before the development of symptoms) who may be contagious so that measures can be taken to prevent further spread of the virus.
    • Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) Pooled Testing is free for all Arizona K-12 schools. All students in a class, pod, or cohort swab their own noses and place their swab in a single tube, the pooling step. The swabs in that tube are then run as a single sample, using one test. Individuals in a positive pool, a rare occurrence, then receive a follow-up test (i.e., BinaxNOW) to determine who in the pool is positive.
    • Test to Stay (TTS) is a practice comprised of contact tracing and serial testing (testing that is sequentially repeated) to allow close contacts who are not fully vaccinated to continue in-person learning during their quarantine period. While implementation of TTS may vary, contact tracing and testing, as well as masking of contacts during their in-school quarantine period, are integral to minimizing the risk of transmission.
  • Prevent transmission at sports and other extracurricular activities by relocating activities to outdoors or other well-ventilated venues and encouraging or requiring vaccination of eligible students and adults who support these activities.
Examples of Success: 
  • In a study of K-12 schools in St. Louis with multiple layered prevention strategies in place, only 2% of contacts of COVID-19 cases in the schools tested positive for the virus; this was despite high community transmission rates.
  • A study of 17 rural Wisconsin K-12 schools that were using full in-person instruction found only seven cases among students that were linked to in-school spread; the study noted limited spread among children in cohorts and observed no documented transmission to or from staff members. These Wisconsin schools required mask use (92% observed compliance), placed students less than 6 feet apart in classrooms, and used cohorting at a time of high community transmission.
As a reminder, federal recovery dollars (ESSER I, II, and III funding allocated to schools) can be used to fund COVID-19 mitigation strategies. Applications for ESSER II funds are due now and applications for ESSER III funds are due February 1, 2022. Learn more and apply for available funding on our ESSER page.
We know it has been challenging to have conversations about COVID-19 over the last year – and we appreciate the work that has been done thus far to keep students, families, and teachers safe. You can read the entire science brief by clicking the button below.
Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in K-12 Schools, Early Care, and Education Programs