By Annette Pinder

The Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) has issued guidelines for students in pre-kindergarten, middle, and high schools in Erie County to ensure the safest in-person learning and teaching experience possible in the classroom and during extra-curricular activities.

Masks. Children ages two and older must be masked at all times in classroom and non-classroom settings and buses, regardless of whether or not they are vaccinated. Masks are strongly recommended outdoors. Students may take mask breaks once every hour for approximately five minutes while seated at their desks. If physical distancing between students is less than six feet, mask breaks should be staggered. Individuals with a disability or medical condition who cannot wear a mask should work with the school for a reasonable accommodation

Physical Distancing. Schools should implement physical distancing to the extent possible, but not exclude students from learning in order to meet a minimum distance requirement. Studies have shown low COVID-19 transmission levels in schools even when less than six feet apart is much lower when everyone is masked.

Health Monitoring. Daily screening, temperature, and COVID- 19 symptom checks are required for everyone entering the school, including visitors. Students and faculty members experiencing COVID-19 symptoms will be placed at an isolation, separated from others, that will be monitored. Ill students should be picked up by a parent/guardian. Positive COVID tests must be reported to ECDOH so that close contacts can be notified. People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving a second mRNA vaccine (Moderna or Pfizer), or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Returning to School After COVID. Students and faculty returning to school after COVID require proof of a negative PCR test, which is covered by insurance and free through ECDOH. See A negative home test is not acceptable.

Youth Sports. Schools must notify ECDOH regarding a report by coaches, staff, students, or guardians regarding any student team member testing positive for COVID. Additional criteria for pausing team activities is available at

COVID-19 Vaccines. Pfizer vaccines are now fully approved by the FDA. Knowing vaccination is the leading public health prevention strategy to end the pandemic, schools should be promoting the importance of vaccination. In most circumstances, fully vaccinated individuals will not be subject to the same quarantine requirements as unvaccinated individuals. Weekly COVID-19 screening testing is recommended for students and staff not fully vaccinated during moderate, substantial, and high transmission.

Cleaning and Disinfection: Once daily cleaning is sufficient for removing potential virus on surfaces using disinfectants on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency COVID-19 list.
Ventilation: ECDOH encourages schools to improve ventilation (HVAC and air filtration systems), bring fresh outdoor air into buildings, open multiple doors and windows, and use child-safe fans. Also recommended, is crack windows open in buses and other forms of transportation if doing so does not pose a safety risk.

For a full list of guidelines, see