COVID-19 Guidance for Institutes of Higher Education

Given the ongoing community transmission of COVID-19, including recent 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), if 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.

  • 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 a vaccination clinic at your IHE to make it more convenient for your employees and students to get vaccinated. Consider incentivizing employees to get vaccinated 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

The current Pasadena Public Health Department Health Officer Order strongly recommends that all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask in all indoor public settings and businesses. This recommendation, and the strong recommendation of the California Department of Public Health for masking indoors, 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.


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

  • Visitors: It is strongly recommended that all visitors, including parents and caregivers, regardless of vaccination status, bring and wear masks when they are indoors at the facility. Make masks available to those who arrive without them.
  • Children: It is strongly recommended that all children ages 24 months and older wear a face mask indoors at the facility. Masks should be removed during nap time or when children are eating and drinking.
  • 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.
    • Consider also offering gloves for tasks such as serving food, diapering, handling trash, or using cleaning and disinfectant products.

* 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 unvaccinated employees, regardless of whether there is a known exposure.
    • Unvaccinated employees after an exposure.
    • Vaccinated employees after an exposure if they develop symptoms. However, the CDC and PPHD recommend that fully vaccinated individuals be tested 3-5 days after exposure, regardless of whether or not they develop symptoms.
    • Unvaccinated employees in an outbreak (3 or more employee cases).
    • All employees in a major outbreak (20 or more cases).
  • During periods of increased community transmission, it is recommended that IHEs implement an asymptomatic screening program.
    • 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 asymptomatic.

Symptom Screening and Responding to Cases

Post 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. A temperature check with a no-touch thermometer at entry should be included as part of the screening, if feasible, especially for visitors who may not be part of a systematic at-home screening process.

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; and
  • Access to testing for all exposed individuals within the IHE, regardless of vaccination status, as the basis for further control measures.
  • Notification to PPHD of all confirmed cases of COVID-19 among employees and students who were at the IHE at any point 14 days prior to the illness onset date.
  • The illness onset date is the symptom onset date of the infected person, or for an asymptomatic person, the COVID-19 test date.
  • Cases should be reported to PPHD within 1 business day of the campus learning of the case.
  • This can be completed by downloading and completing the Exposure Investigation Worksheet and sending it by secure email to or FAX (626) 744-6115.

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 signage so that visitors who are entering your building are aware of policies, including the strong recommendation or requirement (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.
  • In dining halls, follow the general guidance for Food and Beverage Service. Continue to offer to go meals for students who prefer not to eat in the dining halls.
  • If you have fitness centers on campus, follow the guidance for Exercising Indoors in your gyms, sports facilities, or fitness centers.
  • If you offer campus transportation such as buses or vans, remember that State Guidance on Face Coverings and the Pasadena Health Officer Order requires all riders to wear a face mask. Consider opening windows to increase ventilation.

Considerations for College Sports

Vaccination 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.

Considerations for Performing Arts and Musical Performance Classes and Programs

Considerations for performing arts classes. At this time, masks are required indoors at all times, and this includes during performing arts classes, with special exceptions below for individuals in music programs that may include students studying singing and/or playing of wind instruments. Groups of students studying/practicing drama, dance, etc. will need to do so while wearing masks unless the activity occurs outdoors, with the following exception:

  • For live indoor student performances, all non-performers in attendance must wear masks. Student performances that cannot feasibly be done while wearing a mask are permitted as long as all performers, staff, instructors and stage crew/volunteers working in close proximity to performers are fully vaccinated and test twice weekly starting at least 72 hours before they begin working together with the performance ensemble until the end of the production and performance schedule. The only permitted exceptions to the required full vaccination status are appropriate medical exemptions and testing is required as stated above.

Additional considerations for students enrolled in musical performance classes and programs. Moving rehearsal, practice and instruction to the outdoor setting is strongly recommended, especially when singing and/or playing of wind instruments is occurring.

  • Any individual may rehearse or perform alone indoors in an enclosed practice room without wearing a mask.
  • Any individual student or a group of two students may practice or receive performance instruction in an indoor setting if they are the only students present with an instructor. All three individuals must wear masks at all times unless the musical activity involves singing or playing a wind instrument. The singers or wind instrument musicians may remove their masks while practicing or receiving instruction indoors in the small group setting if the following conditions are met:
    • All three individuals are fully vaccinated.
    • All individuals are tested a minimum of three times per week.
    • All parties maintain a six-foot minimum distance
    • Students playing wind instruments wear modified masks and use instrument bell covers.
    • In addition, it is strongly recommended that the instructor wear a higher level of personal protection, i.e., respirator (N95 or KN95).
  • Larger groups of students may practice and receive performance instruction together in an indoor setting, absent singers and wind instruments, as long as all participants wear masks at all times. The group may include singers and/or wind instruments if the following additional conditions are met:
    • All individuals must be fully vaccinated – students, faculty and other staff. The only permitted exceptions are appropriate medical exemptions.
    • All individuals are being tested at least three times per week.
    • Anyone playing wind instruments must wear modified masks and use instrument bell covers and maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from all other persons. They should revert to full face masks when not actively practicing or performing. Water and saliva build up (spit valves) must be emptied into appropriate receptacles only.
    • Singers should maintain a distance of at least six feet from others when singing and should put on their masks when they are not actively practicing or performing.
  • For live indoor student performances, all non-performers in attendance must wear masks. Student performances that cannot feasibly be done while wearing a mask are permitted as long as all performers, staff, instructors and stage crew/volunteers working in close proximity to musical performers during the live events are fully vaccinated and test twice weekly starting at least 72 hours before they begin working together with the performance ensemble until the end of the production and performance schedule. The only permitted exceptions to the required full vaccination status are appropriate medical exemptions and testing is required as stated above.


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.