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. 
  • 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.

View this short video for a complete description of a pause. View the video en español - Términos de COVID - Pausa   

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.

View this short video for a complete description of a close contact. View the video en español - Terminos de COVID: Contacto cercano. (Note: After the videos were produced,  FCPS began following the new VDH guideline for the K-12 Exception that includes  "outdoors in the K-12 setting," in addition to the classroom setting. 


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.

View this short video for a complete description of quarantine. View the video en español - COVID: Cuarantena


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.

View this short video for a complete description of isolation. View the video en español - COVID: Aislamiento


One other term we often hear is “outbreak.” An outbreak is defined as two or more laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases with onset within a 14-day period who are epidemiology 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. 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. 

View this short video for a complete description of outbreak. View the video en español - COVID: Brote

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.