Boulder County COVID-19 School Guidance

School and Child Care Guidance

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School and Child Care Guidance

Requirements outlined in this school guidance are supported by Public Health Order 2021-07. This guidance is founded on a layered mitigation strategy approach that when followed by schools, students, staff and families, will result in the collective success in meeting the goal to maintain in-person learning in schools and child care settings in Boulder County. The primary goals of this guidance are:

  • To ensure that children return safely to in-person learning for the entire school year
  • To minimize school disruptions
  • To balance the physical health needs of children with the academic and social-emotional benefits of in-person learning

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Guidance Summary

The following is a summary of the requirements and recommendations outlined in BCPH’s school guidance. Read the full guidance.


  • Face coverings indoors in all schools, child care and extracurricular activities
  • Enforcement of quarantine and isolation
  • Reporting all cases and outbreaks to BCPH
  • Cooperation in case investigations and contact tracing
  • Cooperation in the distribution of Public Health Notices and quarantine letters to family/guardians
  • Keeping attendance records, stable cohorts and seating charts where age-appropriate
  • Social distancing as much as possible (3 feet minimum)
  • Symptom screening
  • Following Return to Learn
  • Improving ventilation where possible
  • Promotion of hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette
  • Routine cleaning
  • Sports Guidance


  • Screening testing
  • Post-exposure testing
  • Promotion of vaccinations when available and age-appropriate

Frequently Asked Questions

General Information

Boulder County Public Health issued this order to ensure the safety and continued in-person learning in PK-12 schools and childcare. The order requires all attendees, students, parents, teachers, and staff to wear a mask while indoors at a childcare or preschool through grade 12 in school. Because during the 2020-2021 school year many incidences of spread were linked to youth sports and other extracurricular activities, the order also applies to athletes, spectators, attendees, coaches, and volunteers for indoor youth extracurricular activities, and indoor youth recreation activities.

The order follows CDC’s Guidance for K-12 schools, CDC’s Guidance for Early Childhood education, and the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The order will remain in effect until modified, amended, or rescinded. Boulder County Public Health will review data on at least a monthly basis to determine the continuing necessity of the order and the need for any modifications.

Masks are well known to reduce the transmission of the COVID-19 virus. By having universal masking and other mitigation strategies in place, routine classroom exposure quarantines will not be required for grades 1 through 12. However, positive cases will be required to isolate, and symptomatic contacts from routine classroom exposures must isolate as well.

Any individual under age 19 is considered a youth.

Applications of public health order

Yes, the order applies to all PK-12 schools and childcare, both public and private.

No. However, order 2021-07 DOES APPLY to childcare, youth activities, or PK-12 schools run by an institution of higher education. Other orders may cover institutions of higher education.

The Order follows the CDC’s Guidance for K-12 schools , the CDC’s Guidance for Early Childhood Education, and CDPHE’s Guidance for Early childhood education and K-12 schools, which apply to the following indoor facilities and indoor activities:

  • K-12 schools, both public and private.
  • Licensed child care settings.
  • Home-based family child care settings.
  • License-exempt child care programs such as single skill building and 72-hour camps.
  • Guest child care facilities at ski resorts and courthouses.
  • “Pods” and other home learning/homeschooling groups.

All individuals, including children age 2 and over as well as adult coaches, teachers, spectators, and participants, must wear a mask while indoors and participating in youth extracurricular activities. Such activities include but are not limited to youth sports, music (e.g. orchestra), youth camps such as art camps, robot camps, any school-aged care program, and any other indoor youth group activity setting.

The order applies to age 2 and over. There is no upper age limit.

Yes. The order requires both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals to mask. While COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing severe disease, hospitalization and death from COVID-19 and also reduce the likelihood of mild or asymptomatic infection, a small share of fully vaccinated individuals do become infected, and some become hospitalized or have died. These rare occurrences are known as “breakthrough cases” which are to be expected and are historically known to occur with other vaccines as no vaccine is 100% effective.

Because individuals under age 12 are not yet eligible for the vaccine, and because of the importance of maintaining in-person learning, the order requires masks in these settings in alignment with CDC recommendations for universal masking in schools and childcare. To maximize protection from the Delta variant and prevent possibly spreading it to others, the CDC recommends wearing a mask indoors in public if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission or are unvaccinated. Individuals with a weakened immune system, underlying medical condition, older age or household members with a weakened immune system are at increased risk for severe disease, and it is recommended they wear a mask indoors in public places regardless of transmission risk.

No. The order only requires masking indoors. In alignment with CDC guidance, Boulder County Public Health recommends that all individuals wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings or when participating in activities outdoors with close contact with others.

Yes. The order requires masks regardless of vaccination status. Due to the delta variant, the CDC recommends that all individuals in childcare and K-12 schools wear a mask indoors, regardless of vaccination status.

Enclosed rooms that host both youth and adult activities simultaneously must follow the order. The order applies to youth sports, classes, childcare, and other group activities. It does not apply to adult-only activities outside of school buildings. Facilities may want to implement a facility-wide policy to include those areas not covered by the order in alignment with the CDC’s Guidance that all individuals age 2 and older should wear a face covering while in any indoor public space, regardless of vaccination status.

All schools, childcare facilities, and facilities that host youth sports, youth recreation, and youth extracurricular activities must post signage at entrances stating that masks are required.

Exceptions for Certain Activities

Yes. The order has an exception for students actively playing an instrument that cannot otherwise be played while wearing a mask.

Likely yes. Please review BCPH’s Sports Guidance for sport-by-sport details. The order does not require masks for outdoor sports or any other outdoor activity.

No. Teachers and staff should assist children in removing their masks while napping at school or in childcare or during licensing-mandated rest periods where a child may fall asleep in childcare.

Individuals may remove their mask while seated during mealtime. Boulder County Public Health recommends that students should be spaced as far apart as possible and eat outside when possible.

No. Individuals alone in an enclosed room may remove their masks. When students or other individuals enter the classroom, the teacher must put on their mask.

Medical Exemptions

The medical exemption allows individuals to seek a reasonable accommodation from their school, childcare, or other facilities if they are not medically able to tolerate a face covering. The exception is limited to medical exemptions as required by law, for example, pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Schools, childcares, and other facilities are responsible for establishing a process for accepting, evaluating, and implementing reasonable accommodations for medical exemptions. The medical exemption is not a personal exemption or a religious exemption, and schools, childcares, and facilities are expected to implement an adequate process to evaluate the applicability of the exemption to each individual as provided by law.

An application for a medical exemption is not a guarantee that an individual will be permitted to enter a building without their mask, particularly if other accommodations such as remote learning, alternative activities, substituting equipment, or other options are available.

If you believe you are entitled to a medical exemption, please contact the school, childcare facility, or organizations that your child attends to learn about their process for medical exemptions. BCPH cannot provide legal or medical advice to individuals seeking such exemptions.

According to the Colorado Department of Education, unlike accommodations for other conditions (e.g. installing ramps for individuals with mobility limitations), an unmasked person may be unknowingly contagious with COVID-19 and pose a health risk to those around them. The unmasked participant is also at significantly higher risk of contracting COVID-19 from others, and could be at higher risk of an adverse outcome due to their underlying medical condition.

Screening for COVID-19 symptoms alone provides inadequate protection, because asymptomatic and minimally symptomatic individuals have been demonstrated to be able to spread COVID-19. 40% of adults who are contagious with COVID-19 have no symptoms, and the percentage is likely higher in school-aged children. Additionally, individuals with COVID-19 are contagious for 2 days before symptom onset.

While other layers of protection can reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission in a setting, masks provide an irreplaceable reduction in respiratory droplet and aerosol exposure. Schools and sports clubs must strongly consider what accommodations are possible which would not place an undue burden of excess disease risk on other participants in the activity. There may be circumstances in which a school may properly refuse exemptions to its mask policy.

An application for a medical exemption does not guarantee that an individual may enter a building or other indoor space without a mask. According to the Colorado Department of Education:

A prescriptive set of accommodations is not possible, as the needs of each individual and the circumstances of each activity vary. However, accommodations may be divided into several broad categories:

Substituting equipment

There are a wide range of masks available, including many designed specifically for athletics created by major sporting equipment manufacturers. These are often made of moisture-wicking fabric and are designed to be comfortable under higher respiratory effort. Prior to considering participating without a mask, individuals with concerns should consult with their physician and try several different models of mask.

Substituting activities

Indoor sports pose a higher risk than outdoor activities, and activities that involve regular close contact (e.g. volleyball) are higher risk than those where close contact is less frequent (e.g. track and field). In addition, athletic activities which emphasize coordination and explosive strength (e.g. baseball/softball) may be more tolerable while wearing a mask than activities which require longer periods of sustained exertion (e.g basketball).

Reducing the number of individuals at risk

An unmasked athlete who is unknowingly infected with COVID-19 will create high quantities of infectious aerosol that can travel far beyond 6 feet, particularly in an indoor setting. In addition to other participants, spectators and others in the indoor space are placed at risk. A school or club may consider excluding spectators and other non-participants from the indoor space where unmasked play is occurring.

Maximizing other protections

Maximizing ventilation, including by opening windows and doors, operating HVAC systems at the highest setting, using MERV-13 or higher grade filters, and thoughtful placement of fans, will help reduce the risk of transmission to other individuals in the arena. Increasing spacing between participants (both active and inactive) and between unmasked participants and spectators may also reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. However, ventilation and spacing will not fully eliminate the extra risk posed by an unmasked participant, particularly to other participants.

Allowing for informed choice of other participants

Because an unmasked participant who is unknowingly contagious with COVID-19 places other participants at high risk of contracting COVID-19, the rights of other participants to a safe environment may be impinged by an unmasked participant. This may be particularly important in the case when other participants who would be exposed to the unmasked have medical vulnerabilities or have family members with vulnerabilities, that place them at higher risk of adverse outcomes if they were to contract COVID-19. If one or more individuals in an event are unable to wear a mask, participants from both their own team and other teams should be given the opportunity prior to the start of competition to make a personal decision, or a decision as a team, about whether an unmasked participant would place them at unacceptable risk. If individuals or a team choose not to participate due to this risk, leagues should endeavor to make schedule and standing adjustments so that non-participating individuals or teams are not punished.

Based on CDPHE guidance, routine classroom quarantines are not generally required when all individuals are masked. If an individual is not masked, whether for an exemption or exception, classroom quarantines may be required for both that unmasked individual and their masked close contacts. For more information, see page 6 of Boulder County Public Health’s Schools and Child Care Guidance.

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