COVID-19 or something else? DOH releases flowchart to aid parents, school officials

ALBANY — Is it COVID-19 or something else? A diagnosis can determine when your child may return to school.

As New York schools brace for flu season, the state Department of Health has released a COVID-19 flowchart to help parents and school administrators decide if students should stay home and whether contact tracing is necessary.

The health department’s “Pre-K-12 COVID-10 Toolkit” also outlines the protocols for staff who have symptoms or may have been exposed to the virus.

Classic COVID-19 symptoms like a cough or nasal congestion may resemble the flu or the common cold which would not necessarily require students to isolate for at least 10 days or trigger contact tracing.

Symptoms of the respiratory disease may include a temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or greater, feverishness or chills, a cough, loss of taste or smell, fatigue, sore throat, shortness of breath,  and headaches.

Any students or staff members who suspect they have been exposed to the illness or recently traveled to a COVID-19 hotspot must provide a negative test result before returning to the classroom.

Those who are showing symptoms must visit a healthcare provider and either take a COVID-19 test or provide proof of any alternative diagnosis before going back to school.


Anyone who tests positive for the virus must quarantine for 10 days from the onset of symptoms and must be fever-free for 72 hours before returning to a school building.

Once a positive case is reported, county health officials will contact the individual to discuss the case and begin to contact tracing.

All family members of the infected person must quarantine for at least 14 days.

Schools will compile a list of anyone who has interacted with the infected person at a close distance for more than 15 minutes.


A student or employee who tests negative for the virus may return to school with a lab result or a physician’s note.

If a doctor does not suspect COVID-19 and attributes the symptoms to a pre-existing chronic condition or a lab-confirmed illness like the flu or strep throat, the symptomatic person would not be required to take a COVID-19 test.

Symptoms must be improving and the person should be fever-free for at least 24 hours.  There should also be no vomiting or diarrhea for at least 12 hours before the person resumes in-person school.

Anyone who is prescribed an antibiotic must complete 24 hours of the medication prior to returning to school.

Don’t know?

If test results are not available within 48 hours, the county health department would presume the case positive, and contact tracing would begin.

Schools will compile a list of anyone who has had interacted with the person at a close distance — less than six feet — for more than 15 minutes.

Once the test results are received and if they are negative, county health officials will discontinue the process of contact tracing.

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