Pause, Quarantine, and Contact Tracing

Pausing, quarantining, and contact tracing are tools we use to keep schools safe when a positive COVID-19 case is reported. 

Pausing, quarantining, and contact tracing are tools we use to keep schools safe when a positive COVID-19 case is reported.  View the Guidance for Parents of School-aged Children provided by the Fairfax County Health Department.  


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 24-72 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. 
  • The pause letter sent by the school will contain a return to school date unless the student is cleared sooner as part of contact tracing or verification of vaccine status.
  • This flowchart best explains what happens when there is a pause.

Close Contact

A close contact is any person, regardless of vaccination status, who is within 6 feet of a COVID-19 positive individual for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period. However, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) provides for a K-12 Exception. According to the VDH guideline, close contact applies to students wearing masks who were within 3 feet or less of a student COVID case in the indoor or outdoor K-12 classroom setting for a cumulative amount of 15 minutes or more within 24 hours. 

This exception does not apply to teachers, staff, or other adults in the indoor/outdoor classroom setting.


Reduction in the Quarantine Period to 10 Days for School Exposures

With the start of the national rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations for children ages 5-11 and a drop in the Fairfax County transmission rate from “substantial” to “moderate,” Fairfax County Public Schools is ready to announce some adjustments to our layered prevention strategies that have so far helped us keep a very low rate of in-school transmission of COVID-19 at just 0.02%.

More than 71% of our community ages 12 and older have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and we must balance the need to keep students in the classroom while also ensuring that we are adhering to layered prevention strategies that are appropriate for our community transmission rates.

Monday, November 15, 2021 FCPS is Moving to a 10-Day Quarantine Period for SCHOOL EXPOSURES

  • Effective Monday, November 15, FCPS will transition from the 14-day quarantine to a 10-day quarantine. 
  • Students will be notified of the day they may return to the classroom via the initial pause letter.

Compliance with the Virginia Department of Health 

These steps are in compliance with Virginia Department of Health Guidance. Please note that reducing the duration of quarantine, per the CDC, does increase the residual post-quarantine transmission risk:

  • 14 day quarantine with no testing: Median is 0.1% 
  • 10 day quarantine with no testing: Median is 1.4% 
  • 7 day quarantine with RT-PCR testing: Median is 4%


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 ten (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

Students will continue to learn during any temporary interruption to their time at school. This chart outlines the ways students receive instruction and materials.


One other term we often hear is “outbreak.” A K-12 school outbreak is defined as multiple school-associated COVID-19 cases making up at least 10% of students, teachers, or staff, within a specified core group, or at least three (3) cases within that group, occurring within 14-days of each other and not associated with exposure in another setting outside of school (such as a household).  A core group may be a classroom, extracurricular activity, cohort group, or before/after school care.  When more than one case is reported by a student, staff, or visitor to a particular school or building, it does not always mean there is an outbreak. 

Do Your Part

We want your children in school, learning and enjoying their activities every day. That’s why we are doing our part by implementing layered prevention strategies and working with FCHD to address positive cases and potential exposures. Your family can do their part by wearing masks, getting vaccinated when they are eligible, practicing healthy hygiene, and staying home when sick.