COVID-19 Guidelines for Vaccine-Eligible Adolescents Going Back to School

Bayo Curry-Winchell MD, MS
August 17, 2021
4 mins

With the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 spreading rapidly in many parts of the country, parents are grappling with how to protect their adolescent children as they return to in-person classes.

We previously gave parents and guardians a primer how to best protect children younger than 12. Here, we answer some questions about keeping your vaccine-eligible kids safe.

(Read “The COVID-19 Delta Variant: What You Need to Know as a Vaccinated Person” to learn more about the Delta variant.)

+ Do my adolescent children need to be vaccinated?

As of this writing, there is no vaccine available for children younger than 12. The immune system of a child is different from that of an adult, so a different approach may be needed to create a vaccine for kids.

But according to the CDC, people who are 12 years old or older can and should be vaccinated. The best way to protect everyone in your home, including children who are still too young to get the vaccine, is for all vaccine-eligible people to get vaccinated, and for everyone to follow CDC guidelines about wearing a mask in many indoor spaces.

+ Does my child need to wear a mask at high school or college?

As of August 2021, eleven states still require that masks be worn in schools. These states are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Hawaii, Louisiana, New York, North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington.

Additionally, New Mexico requires that unvaccinated students wear masks, but not vaccinated students. 

These rules apply to public universities and schools, but they may not necessarily apply to private institutions, depending on the state. If you're unsure of whether your child's school is under the jurisdiction of a mask mandate, be sure to contact the school administration to verify an answer. 

These rules are also continuously being changed and updated, especially as the start of a new school year sees school administrators revising their policies. It’s important to stay updated on your local laws and regulations, as they are changing rapidly. 

Even if your school does not have a mask mandate, the CDC recommends that both vaccinated and unvaccinated students continue wearing masks indoors. 

Students do not need to wear masks outdoors, regardless of vaccination status, per CDC guidelines.

In short, to best protect your child and your community, it is recommended that they wear a mask at school regardless of whether a mask mandate is in place.

+ How can we prevent the spread of COVID-19?

The CDC has issued a host of guidelines intended to provide school administrators with an action plan for controlling and reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission. This is especially important as vaccination rates in many states are not high enough to effectively slow the spread of COVID-19. Here’s what your child’s school should be doing to keep them safe during in-person classes:

     • Schools have been instructed to mandate social distancing of at least three feet wherever possible.

     • In consideration of how difficult it may be to consistently apply a social distancing policy, the CDC suggests that schools implement a comprehensive screening and testing program to make sure sick students and staff are isolated and treated before they can infect others

     • Students should practice good hygiene habits, especially frequent, thorough hand washing, sanitization of shared surfaces and items like pencils and keyboards, and other healthy habits like coughing into your elbow instead of your hand. 

+ When should a child quarantine?

At the outbreak of the pandemic, there was a bit of confusion about when a person should isolate due to COVID-19 symptoms or exposure. Recently, the CDC released a comprehensive and clear guideline for quarantining. Here is what it means for parents and guardians of adolescents:

     • If your unvaccinated child has been exposed to someone with COVID-19: Keep them isolated and at home for at least ten days from the date of exposure. Monitor them for any symptoms. Keep them isolated for the full ten days even if they test negative for COVID-19. The virus may be dormant.

     • If your vaccinated child has been exposed to someone with COVID-19: They do not need to isolate if they are vaccinated, but they should be tested three to five days after exposure. If the test results are positive but they show no symptoms, they should quarantine for 10 days.

     • If your child shows symptoms of COVID-19: Students should be quarantined for at least 10 days if they show symptoms of any infectious disease, regardless of vaccination status. With fall and winter coming, it may be hard to distinguish mild cases of COVID-19 from seasonal colds and the flu, so caution is recommended. Symptoms to watch out for include fever, runny nose, coughing, body chills, aches, fatigue, sore throat, and shortness of breath.

     • If your child tests positive for COVID-19: They should quarantine for at least 10 days. Monitor your child's symptoms, and seek emergency care if their illness appears to be severe or consistently getting worse. Your child can return to school 10 days after the initial onset of symptoms and 24 hours with no fever if symptoms are improving. 

Download the Carbon Health app or visit to make a virtual or in-person appointment with a healthcare provider.

Carbon Health’s medical content is reviewed and approved by healthcare professionals before it is published. But note that our knowledge and understanding of COVID-19 are developing and changing very rapidly; if you have questions or concerns about COVID-19 precautions, treatments, and vaccinations, please talk to your healthcare provider.

Editorial note: On December 27, 2021, the CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) updated their recommendations for quarantining and isolating after exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19. In a statement, the CDC announced, “People with COVID-19 should isolate for 5 days and if they are asymptomatic or their symptoms are resolving (without fever for 24 hours), follow that by 5 days of wearing a mask when around others to minimize the risk of infecting people they encounter. The change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after.” Read the full announcement.

Bayo Curry-Winchell MD, MS

Bayo Curry-Winchell, MD, is a regional clinical director at Carbon Health and the company’s co-interim director for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging. She lives and practices medicine in Reno, Nevada.