The return to in-person learning is exciting, but many people want to know how to protect themselves and their children as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Kaiser Permanente and John Muir Health are committed to keeping our children safe, both inside and outside of the classroom. We’ve joined together to answer your questions about protecting your children in school.


If you have other questions related to schools, vaccines, masking and other efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19, you can submit your question here.


Why are masks required?

Every student has the right to learn in a safe environment, and masks are one of the tools that can make school safer.

Masks are one of the most effective and simplest safety practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  COVID-19 spreads when an infected person breathes out droplets and very small particles that contain the virus. These droplets and particles can be breathed in by other people or land on their eyes, noses, or mouth. Masks limit the spread of the virus in the air, protecting people from getting sick.

That's why wearing masks is still so important, especially for unvaccinated children.

Universal masking indoors in K-12 schools is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Masks can be safely worn by all children, 2 years of age and older, including most children with special health conditions. Masks will not affect your child's ability to focus or learn in school.

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Do masks work?

We all want school to be a safe place for everyone. When teachers, staff and students regularly and correctly wear masks, they protect themselves and others.

Masks are effective and safe to wear for long periods of time, such as during the school day. Masks block the spray of a person's spit and respiratory droplets, which can carry the virus that causes COVID-19.

To learn more about the science of masks, click here.

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Is it safe for my child to wear a mask all day at school?

Most people didn’t wear masks before the COVID-19 pandemic, so it’s normal to wonder if it’s safe for children to wear at school.

Studies show that most children, even those with medical conditions, are able to wear masks safely and effectively with practice, support and role-modeling by adults.

Wearing a mask does not raise the carbon dioxide (CO2) level in the air you breathe. Masks allow the small CO2 molecules to easily pass through mask material, while blocking the larger droplets carrying the virus.  

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How can schools be safer?

Our schools are working hard to make in-person learning as safe as possible. There are many ways to reduce the risk of people getting COVID-19, including:

  • COVID-19 Vaccination: Everyone, ages 12 and older, can get a free COVID-19 vaccine. Vaccines have been proven to be safe and effective. Vaccines reduce your chances of getting COVID-19 and protect you from serious illness, hospitalization and death from the virus.

  • Masks: Everyone over the age of 2 is required to wear masks indoors and some schools may also require masks outdoors. When everyone wears masks properly and regularly, masks are effective at reducing the spread of COVID-19.

  • COVID-19 Testing: Testing is an important part of stopping the spread of COVID-19. Your child’s school may do screening testing, which is recommended by the CDC when there are higher levels of COVID-19 cases in the community. You can also get your child tested on a regular basis if they are not vaccinated.

  • Ventilation: Schools should increase air flow as much as possible by opening windows and doors to bring in outdoor air. Schools may also use portable air cleaners and should ensure that heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) settings are maximizing ventilation.

  • Handwashing and Hygiene: Schools should follow guidelines on properly disinfecting and sanitizing classrooms and common areas. Students and staff should be encouraged to wash hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer regularly, especially before eating.

  • Staying Home When Sick: If your child is sick or doesn’t feel well, keep them home from school and get them tested for COVID-19.


How can I protect myself and my child from getting COVID-19?

You can protect yourself and others by:

  • Getting vaccinated against COVID-19

  • Wearing a mask indoors and in crowded outdoor places

  • Avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces

  • Staying home from work / school if you are sick

  • Washing your hands often


What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

We all need to work together to keep COVID-19 out of the classroom. If your child doesn’t feel well, keep them home from school and contact your pediatrician if you are concerned they may have COVID-19.


Common symptoms of COVID-19 include:

  • Fever or chills

  • Cough

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

  • Fatigue

  • Muscle or body aches

  • Headache

  • New loss of taste or smell

  • Sore throat

  • Congestion or runny nose

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Diarrhea

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What is quarantine and isolation?

Quarantine is when someone who might have been exposed to the virus but has no symptoms and hasn't been vaccinated needs to stay home. This is because they could be infected and could spread the virus, even if they don’t feel sick.

Your school will let you know if your child was exposed to someone with COVID-19. There are a few different types of quarantine. Your child’s school will work with Contra Costa Health Services to determine which quarantine instructions to follow.

Isolation is when someone who is infected with the virus, is contagious and needs to stay home. This helps to prevent spread of the virus to other people.

If your child gets COVID-19, they will need to stay home from school and follow isolation instructions.


What is the difference between flu and COVID-19?

Influenza (flu) and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. Because some of the symptoms of flu, COVID-19 and other illnesses are similar, people should get tested for COVID-19 to confirm which illness they have.

Click here for a COVID-19 symptom comparison chart. If you or your child feels sick, ask your healthcare provider for a free COVID-19 test.


Children 6 months and older can get a flu vaccine to protect themselves against the flu. Children 12 years and older can receive a COVID-19 vaccine to protect against severe illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19. 

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How can I protect my child from wildfire smoke?

Wildfire smoke can irritate your lungs, cause inflammation, affect your immune system and make you more prone to lung infections and COVID-19. The best way to protect yourself is to spend less time exposed to smoke.

Cloth masks will not protect you from wildfire smoke. Cloth masks block the spray of a person's spit and respiratory droplets, which can carry the virus that causes COVID-19. They do not catch small, harmful particles in smoke that can harm your health. N95 and KN95 respirators can protect from both wildfire smoke and COVID-19.

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 Ask the expert.

Have a question about COVID-19 and schools? Send it to our team of experts for an answer (please allow three days for a response).

Please note that this is not a forum for medical advice or diagnosis. Please contact your healthcare provider if you have specific questions related to your care.