COVID-19 Guidance for Institutes of Higher Education

Given the ongoing community transmission of COVID-19, including variants with higher infectiousness such as Delta and Omicron, the risk is greatest for those who are not up to date with COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccination remains the most effective strategy to prevent outbreaks and serious illness, and up to date vaccination against COVID-19 is strongly recommended for all eligible people.

It is strongly recommended that Institutes of Higher Education (IHE) implement multiple layers of COVID-19 risk mitigation to protect staff, faculty, students, their families, and the broader community and to prevent outbreaks and interruptions of operations. Layers of risk mitigation include full vaccination (with booster dose(s), when eligible), continuing to mask in public spaces indoors regardless of vaccination status, testing, physical distancing, symptom screening, responding to cases of COVID-19, maximizing ventilation, practicing good hand hygiene, and cleaning and disinfecting. Establish and communicate a written Exposure Management Plan to assist IHE sites in understanding the requirements for reporting and managing COVID-19 cases.

IHE facilities must comply with applicable Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Prevention Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS), State of CA or CA Department of Public Health Orders, and any Pasadena Public Health Department orders. Local Orders that are stricter than state requirements must be followed.



COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective and are the best way to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks in IHE sites and in the community. COVID-19 vaccines are widely available in every community, and up to date vaccination is strongly recommended for all eligible people.

  • Adopt and communicate policies that clearly explain OSHA requirements, State and Local Health Orders, and CDC recommendations for COVID-19 vaccination. Provide information on how to access COVID-19 vaccines, including a link to
  • Create partnerships with the Pasadena Public Health Department (PPHD), commercial pharmacies, and/or other vaccine providers to connect staff, students, and families to COVID-19 vaccination opportunities.
  • Promote accurate vaccine information through formal and informal channels, such as educating and training staff to understand vaccine science and how to identify misinformation and counter and dispel myths.
  • Consider offering vaccination clinics at your IHE to make it more convenient for your employees and students to get vaccinated. Consider incentivizing up to date vaccination for employees or making it easier to get vaccinated through paid time off, for example, for vaccine side effects.
  • For more information about how to promote vaccination on your campus, visit CDC’s Vaccine Toolkit for Institutes of Higher Education, Community Colleges and Technical Schools.

Wearing Masks

All IHEs are required to adhere to any health officer orders requiring masking in the City of Pasadena, and to have plans in place to communicate such requirements to the workforce, visitors, parents, and students. Unless the IHE has elected to implement a more restrictive masking policy in order to provide a higher level of safety for all, the current Pasadena Public Health Department Health Officer Order recommends that all persons wear a mask and consider the current CDC COVID-19 Community Levels (CCLs) when deciding which prevention behaviors to use and when (at all times or at specific times), based on their own risk for severe illness and that of members of their household, their risk tolerance, and setting-specific factors. CCLs are based on hospitalization rates, hospital bed occupancy, and COVID-19 incidence during the preceding period. Refer to Los Angeles County’s COVID-19 Response Plan for up to date CCL metrics. The recommendation to mask applies to children 2 years (24 months) and older, employees, staff, volunteers, parents, and all visitors to an IHE. Some limited exceptions to the masking recommendations are identified in the Health Officer Order and below:

IHE’s may adopt policies that are stricter than current public health requirements as a part of their COVID-19 risk mitigation plan:

  • Employees*: At this time, IHEs are required to offer upon request, for voluntary use, surgical-grade masks (also referred to as medical procedure masks) and higher-level PPE (e.g. KN95 or N95 respirator masks) to all employees who work indoors or in vehicles around others. For those wearing surgical masks, double masking with a cloth face covering worn over the surgical mask is recommended for enhanced protection. Most cloth face coverings do not provide the same level of source control or personal protection as a proper surgical mask or higher-level PPE.
  • Masking with an upgraded mask may be required for a limited time both indoors and outdoors when around others, in special circumstances such as a student or staff member in school who was recently isolating following a positive COVID-19 test or the onset of symptoms of COVID-19, or is quarantining after an exposure to a confirmed case.
  • Mask Exemption Policy: At times when the Health Officer Order requires universal masking in indoor public settings including schools, alternative protective strategies may be adopted to accommodate students who cannot tolerate masks or in situations where the use of masks is challenging due to pedagogical or developmental reasons (e.g., communicating or assisting those with special needs), student safety, or an existing disability. Individuals may be exempt from wearing a mask for the following reasons:
    • Persons younger than two years old.
    • Persons who are hearing impaired, or communicating with a person who is hearing impaired, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication.
    • Persons with a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability or whose medical provider has determined that it is unsafe for them to wear a mask, may file for an exemption with their school. A certification from a state licensed health care provider attesting that the student has a condition or disability that precludes them from wearing a mask safely will be accepted as proof of exemption. The following licensed health care professionals may provide such attestations: Medical providers including physician (MD or DO), nurse practitioner (NP), or physician assistant (PA) practicing under the authority of a licensed physician; and licensed mental and behavioral health practitioners including Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), clinical psychologist (Psy.D.), Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC), or Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT).

At times when the Health Officer Order may require universal indoor masking, students who are exempt from wearing a mask are strongly recommended to wear a face shield with a drape at the bottom, as long as their condition allows it. Schools should enter into an interactive process with individuals who are exempt from wearing a mask and may choose to implement alternative protective strategies when accommodating such students in school. Alternative strategies to consider may include:

  • Regular (weekly) screening testing of any unmasked students;
  • Strategies to improve ventilation in indoor spaces that accommodate unmasked students;
  • Seating unmasked students closer to open windows, exhaust fans, HVAC intake vents, and free standing air purifiers; and
  • Offering students and staff who share indoor air spaces with unmasked students upgraded respirator masks (e.g., N95, KN95, or KF94).

Please Note: Regardless of universal indoor masking policy, the City of Pasadena Quarantine Order currently requires close contacts to a case who remain asymptomatic to wear a highly protective mask for 10 days after last exposure when around others while indoors, and to test at least once 3-5 days after exposure, if they wish to avoid quarantine at home. Students who are identified as close contacts with a valid mask exemption who wish to remain in school after an exposure must remain asymptomatic, monitor for symptoms for 10 days after last exposure, and test negative for COVID-19 at least once 3-5 days after exposure and once again 6-9 days after exposure. Students who are not able to meet these requirements and cannot wear a mask after exposure will need to remain at home for ten days after last exposure. Furthermore, students, staff, and administrators at schools must cooperate with instructions from PPHD outbreak investigators who may implement temporary strategies that differ from these protocols if an outbreak occurs at the school. For example, students who are unable to mask may be instructed to stay home during an active outbreak for the safety of those students and the campus population as a whole .

  • For employees who are unable to wear a mask, refer to Cal/OSHA Emergency Temporary Standards (Cal/OSHA ETS) for return-to-work requirements after an exposure event.

* The terms “employees” and “staff” refer to individuals who work in an IHE site in any capacity associated with teaching, student support, site cleaning or maintenance, administration, or any other activity required for the IHE to function. “Employees” or “staff” may include individuals who are: paid directly by the IHE, paid by entities acting as contractors to the IHE, paid by outside entities acting in collaboration with the IHE to serve students, or unpaid volunteers acting under IHE direction to carry out other functions.





Develop a plan or protocol for incorporating COVID-19 testing into regular IHE operations.

  • At a minimum, the plan should describe the strategy for ensuring access to testing for students and employees, regardless of vaccination status, who are symptomatic or have known or suspected exposure to an individual infected with SARS-CoV-2. Note that the current Cal/OSHA Emergency Temporary Standards (Cal/OSHA ETS) require employers to offer testing at no cost to employees during paid time for:
    • Symptomatic employees, regardless of vaccination status or known exposure.
    • All employees after an exposure with the exception of staff close contacts who were previously infected with SARS-CoV-2 within the last 90 days.
    • All employees in an outbreak (3 or more employee cases), regardless of vaccination status.
  • The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) is not requiring any particular frequency or procedure for asymptomatic testing at this time. However, during times of high community transmission and increased hospitalizations, such as when Los Angeles County is in the CDC-designated High Community Level, regular testing of all students and staff regardless of vaccination status is likely to yield a large number of positive cases that would otherwise remain unidentified and contribute to excess transmission in the school setting. Increased surveillance testing aims to reduce interruption to in-person learning and school activity. At times when Los Angeles County is in the high COVID-19 Community Level, IHEs should consider implementing asymptomatic screening testing for students and staff for high-risk activities (for example, close contact sports, band, choir, theater); at key times in the year, for example before/after large events (such as conferences, tournaments, group travel); and when returning from breaks (such as holidays, spring break, at the beginning of the school year). In any screening testing program, testing should include both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
    • Implement entry screening testing at the beginning of the term for all individuals.
    • Provide serial screening testing for asymptomatic individuals without COVID-19 exposure to reduce transmission. Testing at least once per week is recommended. Serial screening is particularly important for all unvaccinated persons on campus and this group should be prioritized. However, IHEs may consider screening fully vaccinated individuals as well if testing capacity allows.
    • IHEs without the capacity to implement universal serial testing can still reduce transmission by testing a random sample of students, faculty, and staff. Alternatively, IHEs can implement pooled testing, in which the test is conducted on the combination of samples from multiple individuals.
  • The plan must include that all testing results will be reported to the Pasadena Public Health Department.
  • Please note: Screening testing is not recommended for persons who have recovered from laboratory confirmed COVID-19 within the past 90 days and are presently asymptomatic.


Symptom Screening and Responding to Cases

Maintain signage to remind everyone who enters your establishment that they should NOT enter if they have symptoms of COVID-19 or if they are under isolation or quarantine orders.

Exclude any person or isolate any student, faculty or staff showing symptoms of a contagious disease or illness until they can be transported to their residence or designated isolation housing.

Follow and educate students and staff on public health guidelines for quarantine or isolation.

Daily symptom screening is highly recommended to be conducted before students, visitors and staff enter the campus. Screenings should include a check-in concerning symptoms consistent with possible COVID-19 and any other symptoms the individual may be experiencing. These checks can be done remotely (using a digital app or other form) or in-person upon arrival.

Initiate a COVID-19 Exposure Management Plan that outlines procedures for:

  • Isolation of the person (case) with confirmed or suspected COVID-19;
  • Identification of individuals exposed to the case while at the IHE;
  • Notification of exposed employees and students (Close Contacts); and
  • Access to testing for all exposed individuals within the IHE, regardless of vaccination status, as the basis for further control measures.
  • Reporting all clusters of 3 or more COVID-19 cases among employees, students, or visitors in a classroom, office, or pre-defined or identifiable group (i.e., teammates, club members, cohort, etc.) who were at the IHE at any point 14 days prior to the illness onset date to PPHD.
    • The illness onset date is the symptom onset date of the infected person, or for an asymptomatic person, the COVID-19 test date.
    • All cluster notifications should be reported to PPHD immediately, and no later than 1 business day of the school being notified of the third case within a 14-day period using the COVID-19 Case and Contact Line List for Education Sector. If needed, additional time may be requested. Secure (encrypted) online email via is the preferred method for notifying PPHD of COVID-19 exposures; or FAX (626) 744-6115.
    • PPHD will work with the school to determine whether the cluster is an outbreak that will require a public health outbreak response.


Maximizing Ventilation

  • Verify the IHE site’s HVAC systems are in good, working order. PPHD highly recommends having HVAC systems evaluated by an appropriate engineer familiar with the CDPH Ventilation Guidance for Reopening Schools and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Guidance for HVAC Systems. Upgrade HVAC filters to a higher efficiency (MERV-13 or higher rating is preferred).
  • Consider installing portable high-efficiency air cleaners, upgrading the building’s air filters to the highest efficiency possible, and making other modifications to increase the amount of outside air and ventilation in all working areas.
  • Consider how to safely bring fresh air into the facility. When weather and working conditions allow, increase fresh outdoor air by opening windows and doors. Consider using fans to increase the effectiveness of open windows; always position window fans to blow air outward, not inward.
  • Keep doors and windows open during the day if feasible and if outdoor conditions and fire/safety considerations make this appropriate. Existing fire codes requiring closure of fire-rated doors must be respected.
  • Decrease occupancy in areas where outdoor airflow cannot be increased.
  • If your IHE utilizes transport vehicles, such as buses or vans, it is recommended to open windows to increase outdoor airflow when it is safe to do so and weather permitting.

See CDPH Interim guidance for Ventilation, Filtration, and Air Quality in Indoor Environments.

Hand Hygiene

Implement measures to promote frequent hand washing by staff, students, and visitors. These may include:

  • Give students and staff frequent opportunities to wash their hands for 20 seconds. Wash hands with soap, rubbing thoroughly after application, and use paper towels (or single-use cloth towels) to dry hands thoroughly.
  • Place handwashing stations or ethyl alcohol-based (containing at least 60% ethanol) hand sanitizer at entry and outside bathrooms with signage promoting use. Be sure that hand sanitizer is out of the reach of children. If applicable, supervise children under the age of 6 when they use hand sanitizer to prevent swallowing alcohol or contact with eyes.
  • Swallowing alcohol-based hand sanitizers can cause alcohol poisoning. Hand sanitizer should only be used with adult supervision for children under age 9. Inform faculty and staff of the risk of ingestion and that they should call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 if there is reason to believe that a student has consumed hand sanitizer.
  • Provide hand sanitizer, soap and water, tissues and trash cans at or near the entrances, the main office reception area, other office spaces, and anywhere else inside the workplace or immediately outside where people share spaces.

Cleaning and Disinfection

Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces can reduce the risk of infection. Train and monitor staff to follow the infection control practices related to requirements for cleaning and disinfection, housekeeping and sanitation principles listed below:

  • IHEs should consider developing routine cleaning plans that prioritize cleaning high-touch surfaces and areas that are used most frequently and those that entail intensive hands-on engagement with equipment, such as in laboratories. IHEs should provide individuals responsible for the cleaning and disinfection of facilities with the appropriate PPE.
  • Laundry, such as clothing and bedding, should be washed using the appropriate hot water setting and allow items to dry completely. If handling dirty laundry from a person who is sick, wear gloves and a mask.
  • Use cleaning products that are effective against COVID-19 (listed on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) List N), and follow product instructions.

For more information about cleaning and disinfection, see CDC guidance on Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility.


Post and maintain signage so that visitors who are entering your building are aware of policies, including the recommendation or requirement (per current City of Pasadena Health Officer Orders and the IHE’s policy) for all visitors, employees and children over 24 months to wear a face mask while indoors. Update your safety manual and online platforms to share IHE site’s COVID-19 safety policies with students and families, particularly information concerning policies related to:

  • Any vaccination requirements or recommendations.
  • Isolation and quarantine policies as they apply to students who have symptoms, have tested positive for COVID-19, or may have been exposed to COVID-19.
  • Options for COVID-19 testing if the student or a family member has symptoms or has been exposed to COVID-19.
  • Who to contact at the IHE if student has symptoms or may have been exposed.
  • How to conduct a symptom check before student leaves home.
  • Proper use of high quality face masks.
  • Importance of providing the IHE site with up to-date emergency contact information including multiple contact options.

Considerations for Reduced Crowding, Especially Indoors

  • In classroom settings, consider offering large lecture classes online simultaneously to reduce crowded lecture halls by reducing the number of students in classrooms at any given time.
  • Roommates/suitemates can be considered a household and do not need to wear masks or physically distance when in the unit (dorm room or suite) unless someone in the household is ill. Otherwise, all residents should wear masks whenever they are in common indoor areas of congregate housing facilities, except when engaged in an activity where masks are obviously not feasible (e.g., while showering, eating, oral hygiene). Refer to CDC Guidance for Shared or Congregate Housing for more recommendations, including how to create and maintain physical distancing in communal living settings.
    • It is recommended that IHEs reserve some housing for quarantine/isolation purposes, especially if an IHE has a lot of unvaccinated students. IHEs should have a COVID-19 prevention plan that addresses isolation and quarantining of students.
  • If you offer campus transportation such as buses or vans, remember that State Guidance on Face Coverings and the Pasadena Health Officer Order recommend that all riders to wear a face mask. Consider opening windows to increase ventilation.

Considerations for College Sports

Up to date vaccination (including booster doses when eligible) is strongly recommended for all college sports participants, coaches, and support staff. Teams should consider opportunities to train, practice and compete outdoors rather than indoors whenever possible. College sports teams should follow NCAA COVID-19 guidelines. For games and competitions in indoor settings, during play all spectators, coaches, staff, and any players not actively competing (i.e. on the bench or sidelines) are strongly recommended to be masked at all times.




As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many students, particularly students from low-income backgrounds and students of color, have juggled their class schedules with employment and/or finding access to resources to help support their families. Additionally, some students with disabilities have had unique challenges in accessing their classes, using support tools and finding the resources they need to stay engaged and on track to a degree, while other students with disabilities found themselves at even greater risk for serious illness from COVID-19 than their peers. In order to be responsive to the current challenges that students are facing, IHEs should consider implementing broad-based supports and flexibility that allow students to be responsive to their needs both at home and in class. See US Department of Education ED COVID-19 Handbook for further discussion.

IHEs can create and implement equity-driven strategies to respond to COVID-19 and mitigate the disparate impacts of the move to online learning. Students enrolled in higher education may face challenges related to balancing coursework and other responsibilities during the pandemic. Students from underserved communities and those with disabilities may have additional needs in order to participate in online learning. The US Department of Education outlines several steps IHEs can take along with information and resources that may be helpful references as IHEs explore how to close access gaps for their students and support the effective use of technology in online teaching and learning. See US Department of Education ED COVID-19 Handbook.

International Students

International students may have access to different vaccines authorized by their home country or may not have access to a COVID-19 vaccine at all. The United States is accepting any COVID-19 vaccine currently authorized for emergency use by either the FDA or any vaccine listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization. The CDC considers a person to be fully vaccinated after they have received all recommended doses of an FDA- or WHO-approved vaccine. While IHEs are not required to follow this guidance, it is strongly recommended. Additionally, IHEs should plan for situations where they may need to provide quarantine housing and wrap-around services to international students until they are fully vaccinated. Above all, IHEs should remain flexible with students.

COVID-19 Mental Health Resource Guide

As the world continues to combat COVID-19, many students and their families continue to face challenges that can be stressful and overwhelming. It is natural to feel stress, anxiety, grief, and worry during the COVID-19 pandemic. If a student, family member or employee are having a hard time coping, help is available 24/7. For information about accessing local mental health services, refer to PPHD’s COVID-19 Mental Health Resource Guide, which includes listing of services that can help individuals and families cope during the pandemic.

Below are additional resources and recommendations to help in dealing with stress:

  • California's playbook on Stress Relief during COVID-19 provides guidance on how to reduce stress for children and adults.
  • Promote healthy nutrition, sleep, and physical activity habits and self-care.
  • Discuss and share stress reduction strategies with colleagues and families.
  • Encourage staff and students to talk with people they trust about their concerns and feelings.
  • Communicate openly and often with staff, students, and families about mental health support services available in the community.
  • Consider posting signage for CalHOPE and the national distress hotline: 1-800-985-5990, or text “TalkWithUs” to 66746.
  • Encourage staff to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255), 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish, or Lifeline Crisis Chat if they are feeling overwhelmed with emotions such as sadness, depression, or anxiety; or call 911 if they feel like they want to harm themselves or others.