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Coronavirus in School, Work & Community

Updated: Oct 8, 2020

Community, Work, and School

Information for Where You Live, Work, Learn, and Play

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters is closely monitoring the global health crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Working with other unions, public health officials and other experts in our Safety and Health Department, the Teamsters Union is focused on providing our affiliate locals, 1.4 million members, and staff with the most up-to-date information and resources to help everyone in this difficult time. Many Teamster members across multiple industries are seeing the effects of the widespread transmission of the disease caused by the virus, known as COVID-19. These workers are at increased risk if they frequently interact with potentially infected or infected individuals.

Schools are an important part of the infrastructure of communities and play a critical role in supporting the whole child, not just their academic achievement.

This guidance is intended to aid school administrators as they consider how to protect the health, safety, and wellbeing of students, teachers, other school staff, their families, and communities and prepare for educating students this fall.

This guidance is for K-12 school administrators who are preparing for students, teachers, and staff to return to school in fall 2020. School administrators are individuals who oversee the daily operations of K-12 schools, and may include school district superintendents, school principals, and assistant principals.

Engage and encourage everyone in the school and the community to practice preventive behaviors. These are the most important actions that will support schools’ safe reopening and will help them stay open.

  • What is currently known about COVID-19 transmission in schools and the exposure risk among K-12 school staff;

  • Preventing and reducing the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 among school staff, which will also prevent transmission among students and the wider community;

  • Maintaining healthy school operations;

  • Maintaining a healthy school/work environment; and

  • Special considerations for certain occupations within school environments.

Who is this information for?

These strategies are intended for K-12 school administrators preparing for school programs for staff and students during the COVID-19 pandemic. Administrators oversee the daily operations of K-12 schools. These strategies are also intended for other groups, including school district superintendents, school principals, and assistant principals, who share responsibilities for safely operating school buildings. Finally, this information may also be useful to boards of education, state and local policy makers, unions/labor groups, school employees, including teachers, paraprofessionals, other support staff, and parents, families, and students. All K-12 school workplaces developing plans to continue operations while COVID-19 outbreaks occur among teachers, staff, and students, or in the surrounding community, should:

  1. Work directly with appropriate state, tribal, local, and territorial public health officials and occupational safety and health professionals;

  2. Incorporate relevant aspects of CDC guidance, including, but not limited to, CDC’s Schools and Childcare Programs​: Plan, Prepare, and Respond and Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers;

  3. Incorporate guidance from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)external icon and other federal and state regulatory agencies, as needed; and

  4. Communicate regularly with families, staff, and other partners about important COVID-19 information.

Guiding Principles to Keep in Mind

The risk for COVID-19 spread rises with increased close contact with others. The more people who teachers and staff interact with, and the longer those interactions last, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread. While not exhaustive, Operating schools during COVID-19: CDC’s Considerations provides a stratification that attempts to characterize the risks of spread among students, teachers, and staff across this continuum.

Exposure Risk among K-12 Staff

The risk of occupational spread of COVID-19 depends on several factors. Some of these factors are described in the joint publication by the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services titled Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19pdf iconexternal icon. Distinctive factors that affect risk for exposure to COVID-19 for teachers and staff in school settings include:

  • Distance between staff and others: In addition to their primary job functions and interaction with students, school staff may also be near (within 6 feet) one another at times, such as when arriving at school and during breaks. Shared spaces (e.g., break rooms, entrances/exits, restrooms) and shared transportation to and from the school (e.g., personal or public transportation, carpooling, ride sharing) may increase their risk. These can be mitigated or minimized with good practices.

  • Duration of contact: Extended contact (15 minutes or greater) with potentially infectious individuals increases the risk of COVID-19 spread.

  • Type of contact: Current evidence indicates that COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets and short-range aerosols produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks in close proximity to other people. At this time, long-range airborne transmission does not appear to be a primary way COVID-19 spreads. There is not yet clear evidence that ventilation systems spread the virus from space to space causing exposures. Studies indicate that people who are not showing symptoms (i.e., asymptomatic) can still spread the virus. COVID-19 exposure may also occur from touching one’s mouth, nose, or possibly eyes after contact with contaminated surfaces or objects, such as office equipment, workstations, or break room tables.

More information on what is known about the signs and symptoms, burden, and transmission of SARS-CoV-2 among children can be found in Preparing K-12 School Administrators for a Safe Return to School in Fall 2020.

Persons at Higher Risk for Illness Staff at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 include older adults and people of any age with certain underlying medical conditions. Policies and procedures addressing issues related to teachers and other staff at higher risk of serious illness should be made in consultation with occupational medicine and human resource professionals, keeping in mind Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) concerns.

Symptoms The profile of symptoms associated with COVID-19 remains under study and will be updated as warranted by research findings. Check the CDC website for the latest information.

Create a COVID-19 Hazard Assessment Plan Every school should have a plan in place to protect staff, children, and their families from the spread of COVID-19, and a response plan in place for if/when a student, teacher, or staff member tests positive for COVID-19. For information on developing and implementing an Emergency Operations Plan (EOP), please refer to the Operating schools during COVID-19: CDC’s Considerations website.

An important part of a school’s EOP is to develop a plan for conducting initial and periodic hazard assessmentsexternal icon of the school to identify COVID-19 risks, prevention strategies (e.g., engineering and administrative controls and personal protective equipment (PPE)), and to identify new or recurring hazards. To create a hazard assessment plan:

  • Refer to the OSHA website to learn more about how to develop a hazard assessmentexternal icon plan.

  • Engage with staff across the full range of jobs associated with schools (e.g., classroom instructors, school healthcare professionals, school nutrition staff, custodial staff, office staff, and others) to learn the specific hazards and exposures associated with each position.

  • Create small working groups or teams that can assess group-specific hazards and report back to the larger assessment team.

  • Assemble health and safety working groups with employee and management representatives, from both the district and school levels, to assist with developing, implementing, and evaluating a health and safety plan and adjusting accordingly.

  • Work closely with occupational health and safety and/or occupational medical professionals, when possible.

  • Include representatives of authorized unions, if applicable.

  • Conduct a thorough hazard assessment to determine if workplace hazards are present, or are likely to be present, and determine what type of controls or PPE are needed for specific job duties. For more information on conducting a hazard assessmentexternal icon, please refer to the Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers Responding to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

  • Collect information regularly through a variety of channels (e.g., email, electronic surveys, virtual meetings, focus groups) to reach a wider cross-section of staff, and elicit deeper, more informative responses.

See the OSHA COVID-19external icon webpage for more information on how to protect workers from potential COVID-19 exposures. Guidance may also be available from state, local, or professional technical organizations. For example, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has published Reopening Guide for Schools and Universitiespdf iconexternal icon which includes useful plans and checklists to prepare buildings for occupancy and check on equipment and systems, as well as maintenance plans and checks during the academic year.

Strategies for Controlling COVID-19 Exposures Infection prevention recommendations for staff and students are based on an approach known as the hierarchy of controls. This approach groups actions by their effectiveness in reducing or removing hazards. In most cases, the preferred approach is for management to:

  1. Reduce the risk of COVID-19 by having teachers, staff, and students stay home when sick or if they have been in close contact with a person with COVID-19. Monitor COVID-19 transmission rates in the immediate community and in the communities in which students, teachers, and staff live. Work collaboratively with local health officials to determine if temporary school closure is necessary.

  2. Install engineering controls, including modifying work areas using physical barriers, incorporating required accessibility requirements, and improving ventilation, where feasible.

  3. Establish administrative controls and safe work practices for all staff to follow, which include appropriate cleaning and disinfection practices and appropriate mask policies.

  4. Provide PPE in accordance with the school administrator’s worksite hazard assessment to protect staff from hazards not controlled by engineering and administrative controls alone (e.g., school health staff, janitorial and maintenance staff).

Reducing the risks of COVID-19 in K-12 school worksites K-12 school administration, particularly in areas where community spread of COVID-19 is occurring, should develop and implement a comprehensive strategy aimed at preventing the introduction of COVID-19 into school facilities. Please refer to the CDC Preparing K-12 School Administrators for a Safe Return to School page for more information. Strategies for reducing the spread of COVID-19 in schools include educating and training staff on at-home symptom screening (e.g., fever, cough, sore throat) and cooperating with federal and local health officials, including to facilitate contact tracing, if exposures or infections warrant. Screening K-12 school staff for COVID-19 Given the wide range of symptoms and the fact that some people with COVID-19 are presymptomatic or asymptomatic, there are limitations to symptom screening for the identification of COVID-19. CDC does not currently recommend that schools conduct universal in-person symptom screenings. Refer to Screening K-12 Students for Symptoms of COVID-19: Limitations and Considerations for more information on screening students. Information about screening employees can be found on the General Business Frequently Asked Questions page. One option is to encourage staff to self-screen prior to coming onsite.

Testing of K-12 school staff CDC does not recommend universal testing of all students and staff. CDC’s Interim Considerations for K-12 School Administrators for SARS-CoV-2 Testing advises that schools should determine, in collaboration with local health officials, whether to implement any testing strategy and, if so, how to best do so. School administrators are encouraged to review SARS-CoV-2 Testing Strategy: Considerations for Non-Healthcare Workplaces when considering testing of all school employees.

Managing sick staff When school staff or students report or have symptoms (e.g., fever, cough, sore throat) upon arrival at work or become sick during the day, school administrators should:

  • Immediately separate the person(s) from others at the school. Individuals who are sick should immediately go home or to a healthcare facility depending on how severe their symptoms are, and follow CDC guidance for caring for oneself and others who are sick.

  • Actively encourage staff and students who are sick, or who have recently had close contact with a person with COVID-19, to get tested and stay home.

  • Develop policies that encourage sick staff to stay at home but without fear of retaliation, and ensure employees are aware of these policies.

  • Identify an isolation area to separate anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms and potential exposure, ideally with a dedicated restroom not used by others. Note: Considerations for screening and management of symptoms for adults may be different than those for K-12 students. Additional considerations related to screening teachers and staff can be found on the General Business FAQ page.

  • Ensure that personnel managing sick employees or students are appropriately protected from exposure. See What Healthcare Personnel Should Know About Caring for Patients with Confirmed or Possible COVID-19 Infection.

  • Only designated, trained staff should interact with people showing symptoms of COVID-19. At least one designated, trained staff member should be available at all times in case there is a need to isolate a symptomatic employee or student.

  • When providing care for anyone with suspected or confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection, personnel who need to be within 6 feet of a sick colleague or student should be provided appropriate PPE (including gloves, a gown, a face shield or goggles, and an N95 or equivalent or higher-level respirator or a surgical facemask if a respirator is not available), and follow Standard and Transmission-Based Precautions.

  • If respirators are needed, they must be used in the context of a comprehensive respiratory protection program that includes medical exams, fit testing, and training in accordance with OSHA’s Respiratory Protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134external icon).

  • If the district has health and safety professional/s, work with them to establish a respiratory protection program; if not, professional organizations, such as the American Industrial Hygiene Associationexternal icon (AIHA) and the American Society of Safety Professionalsexternal icon (ASSP), maintain lists of health and safety consultants across the U.S. who may be able to assist with implementing a respiratory protection program.

  • The OSHA Respiratory Protection websiteexternal icon provides links to a variety of guidance documents, web pages, and online tools related to respiratory protection.

  • On-site healthcare services staff, including school nurses, should follow appropriate CDC and OSHA guidance for healthcare and emergency response personnel. For additional information, refer to the Special Considerations – School nurses/health professionals section below.

  • Have a procedure in place for the safe and accessible transport of an employee who becomes sick while at work. The employee may need to be transported home or to a healthcare provider.

  • If a school staff member is confirmed to have COVID-19, contact the local public health authorities about contact tracing.

  • Maintain the sick employee’s confidentiality, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other applicable federal and state laws. Instruct fellow staff about how to proceed based on the CDC Public Health Recommendations for Community-Related Exposure.

If a school staff member becomes or reports being sick, clean and disinfect the work area and any shared common areas (including restrooms) and any supplies, tools, or equipment handled by that staff member.

  • Work with local health officials to facilitate the identification of other exposed and potentially exposed individuals, such as coworkers or students, in the school.

  • Students, teachers, and staff who test positive or had close contact with an individual who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 should be provided with guidance for when it is safe to discontinue self-isolation or end quarantine.


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