How Pausing, Quarantining, and Isolating Keeps Our Schools Safe

masked student holding sign that says pause

Since the beginning of August, the majority of COVID-19 cases have been acquired through community spread, outside of school buildings. 

FCPS’ layered prevention strategies are working to stop the spread of COVID-19 in our schools. Pausing, quarantining, and isolating are tools we use to keep schools safe when a positive COVID-19 case is reported. Understanding the difference between the three scenarios can help families be prepared.


A pause to in-person instruction is a short-term safety measure used by FCPS and the Fairfax County Health Department (FCHD) to allow time to investigate and determine the safest way to address a positive case within our school community. The pause will be initiated by the FCHD for anyone who interacted with an individual who reported a positive COVID-19 case.

  • A pause typically lasts between 24-48 hours while FCHD verifies vaccination status and completes contact tracing.
  • Vaccination status may reduce the time spent in a pause, but must be verified every time an individual is put on a pause. 
  • The FCHD does not accept a negative COVID-19 test to release an individual from the pause. 
  • You will be contacted by the FCHD with a date they can return to school or work.
  •  This flowchart best explains what happens when there is a pause.

Close Contact

close contact is any person, regardless of vaccination status, who is within six feet of a COVID-19 positive individual for equal to or greater than 15 minutes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) K-12 Exception indicates that students will not be identified as close contacts if they are at least three feet apart and are consistently wearing masks in the classroom setting. Adults are not included in this exception.


When a student is identified as a close contact, there are two things that may occur as a result:

  • Not fully vaccinated students who are identified as a close contact with someone with COVID-19 must remain home for 14 days after their last exposure. FCPS will notify a student of their return date.
  • Fully vaccinated students must remain home until their vaccination status is verified. Upon verification of vaccination status by the FCHD, and if the student/staff is asymptomatic, they may return to in-person learning and activities once notified by FCPS of their return date.


Isolation is the response when someone tests positive for COVID-19. Students who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 may not return until:

  • It has been at least 10 days since the student first had symptoms, AND
  • The student must be fever-free for 24 hours without fever-reducing medication, AND
  • The student’s symptoms are getting better.

FCPS is committed to providing students with opportunities to remain engaged in learning when they are in a pause, quarantine, or isolation period. This chart outlines the ways students receive instruction and materials.

It is important to note that more than one case reported by a student, staff, or visitor to a particular school or building does not always mean there is an outbreak. An outbreak is defined as two or more laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases with onset within a 14-day period who are epidemiologically linked (a case in which the person has been exposed to a confirmed case in a way that a known transmission can occur), do not share a household, and were not identified as close contacts of each other in a setting outside of school during the health department investigation. 

FCPS’ goal is to keep students learning in-person all year. We are doing our part by implementing layered prevention strategies and working with FCHD to address positive cases and potential exposures. Every FCPS student and family can do their part by wearing masks, getting vaccinated when they are eligible, practicing healthy hygiene, and staying home when sick. 

To learn more about COVID-19 case notifications, watch this video

The school will send a general notification to the entire school community when a student, staff member, or visitor tests positive for COVID-19. This will let families and staff know that the Fairfax County Health Department (FCHD) will follow-up with case investigation and contact tracing. This standardized letter does not include any identifying information about the individual or individuals who have tested positive. 


Please keep your child home if exhibiting ANY COVID-related symptoms.

Please keep your child home if they’ve had known exposure to a COVID-positive individual.

Please get your child tested if you suspect COVID.

Please communicate with us immediately if your child has COVID or has been exposed to COVID.