Harvard Risk Reduction Strategies For Reopening Schools

Discover risk reduction strategies for reopening schools during COVID-19 developed by Harvard Healthy Buildings.

Executive Summary:

Keeping schools open needs to be prioritized.


Keeping schools closed comes with massive, long-term individual and societal costs. Many children cannot effectively learn, grow, engage, socialize, be active, eat healthy food, or get support until schools reopen. With schools closed, disparities are widening across racial and ethnic groups, between women and men, and across income levels.

Many parents and caregivers cannot fully go back to work until children go back to school. Children are at much lower risk from COVID-19 than adults and a growing body of scientific evidence shows that kids and adults can be kept safe in any indoor environment, including schools, if appropriate risk reduction measures are implemented.


With this as the backdrop, we set out to answer this question: what strategies should schools consider to reduce risk of COVID-19 transmission?


Note that a risk reduction strategy is different from a goal of achieving zero cases. There is no such thing as ‘zero risk’ in anything we do, and certainly not during a pandemic.


However, scientific evidence indicates that risks to students and staff can be kept low if schools adhere to strict control measures and dynamically respond to potential outbreaks.


We recognize there are immense challenges. There is no perfect plan to reopen schools safely, only ‘less bad’ options. There is no ‘one size fits all’ strategy that works for every school. Schools have limited budgets and staff. Compliance may be imperfect. Learning will be different. There will be disruption. Schools may need to change course unexpectedly depending on local conditions.

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