The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Thursday that they are relaxing their Covid guidance for schools, and now no longer recommend the use of cohorts for students, quarantines after exposure or screening testing in K-12 schools and early care and education (ECE) programs.

In an effort to diminish disruption to daily life, the agency’s new Covid guidance marks an end to the need for remote or hybrid learning models and will hopefully help ease the burden students and parents have faced as a result of being out of the classroom. 

The change also marks a recognition that most of the population is assumed to have some level of antibody protection against the virus, whether that’s vaccine-provided or infection-provided, and risk of severe illness from Covid infection is thought to be much lower now than at previous points during the pandemic. The latest statistics estimate that about 75% of children and teens have some evidence of a previous Covid infection.

Related: Having young kids might protect you from severe Covid, study finds

“We’re in a stronger place today as a nation, with more tools—like vaccination, boosters, and treatments—to protect ourselves, and our communities, from severe illness from COVID-19,” CDC epidemiologist Greta Massetti, Ph.D., M.P.H., author of the community guidance, said in a press release. “We also have a better understanding of how to protect people from being exposed to the virus, like wearing high-quality masks, testing, and improved ventilation. This guidance acknowledges that the pandemic is not over, but also helps us move to a point where COVID-19 no longer severely disrupts our daily lives.”

Quarantines and test-to-stay policies were aimed to prevent infection in our youngest populations, especially as vaccines for kids under 5 were only recently approved. But those policies meant that if an exposure happened, kids could be out of school or daycare for as long as 14 days, which meant parents had to struggle to find childcare and kids lost valuable classroom time, which impacted both learning and social-emotional development. 

For kids under 5, vaccine uptake remains low, with the majority of parents opting to wait or not vaccinate their kids against the virus. While kids are likely to experience less severe Covid infection, contracting the virus can come with a higher risk of long-term effects, including long Covid, as well as type 1 diabetes, blood clots, heart problems and kidney failure.

Related: Got questions about the Covid vaccine for kids under 5? We’ve got answers.

“The updated CDC guidance recognizes that the best place for children is in the classroom and that this can be done safely with acceptable levels of risk,” Dr. Richard Besser, a pediatrician and president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said to NBC News. “This is essential for their social and emotional development, physical and mental health, and academic success.”

It’s also a signal that the agency has shifted its thinking around the pandemic, moving from reducing risk as much as possible to reducing risk of severe infection. It’s an acknowledgement, too, that the virus is here to stay.

Here’s what the new CDC guidelines say for schools and early education programs

Quarantine periods are no longer necessary unless in high-risk situations

“In schools and ECE settings, which are generally not considered high-risk congregate settings, people who were exposed to COVID-19 should follow recommendations to wear a well-fitting mask and get tested,” states the CDC.

Kids should stay up-to-date on vaccinations

Vaccines are now available for everyone over the age of 6 months, and boosters are available for kids over the age of 5. Vaccination remains the best method for protection against severe disease. 

Related: CDC recommends boosters for kids 5 to 11

Kids should stay home when sick

If a child has any sign of illness, whether that’s a fever, cough or gastrointestinal symptoms, they should stay home from school or daycare to reduce the potential spread of infection.  

Related: Is it the flu, a cold, allergies or Covid?

Hygiene and optimal ventilation should be maintained 

Proper hand-washing and covering coughs and sneezes are important to reducing the spread of germs. Surfaces should be cleaned at least once daily, the CDC recommends. Ventilation should be optimized to improve indoor air quality and additional steps can be taken in times of high community transmission, such as opening windows and using HEPA filters.

Masking is optional

Schools are no longer considered to be high-risk settings for virus transmission, so unless your community is experiencing a surge, or your child or another family member is considered to be high-risk, masks in the classroom may not be necessary. In cases where masking is necessary, the CDC recommends masks that provide a higher level of protection, such as a KN95, KF94, or similar style. If your community’s rate of transmission increases to high, masks may be recommended for all regardless of vaccination status. 

Related: It’s time to swap out your cloth masks, experts say

Schools should layer in additional prevention strategies when needed

Should an outbreak occur in a school setting, the CDC recommends layering in additional strategies, such as diagnostic testing, a return to universal masking, increased ventilation and contact tracing, as well as working closely with the local health department to reduce the outbreak.

What to do if you or your child are exposed to Covid

The current CDC guidelines no longer recommend that you should quarantine or need to “test to stay” after being exposed to Covid in the classroom.

This means that your child can keep going to school and can stay in the classroom even if there was a recent Covid exposure. However, the CDC says that students and faculty/staff who were exposed should wear a high-quality mask for 10 days, and get tested on day five after exposure. 

Related: These are our 14 favorite face masks (and we’ve tried hundreds)

You may want to still quarantine at home, however, if one of your family members or close contacts is considered high-risk for severe illness. Talk to your doctor or your child’s pediatrician for more guidance. 

Keep testing, too: The Food and Drug Administration advises those with and without Covid symptoms to test multiple times if they get a negative result on an at-home COVID-19 antigen test due to the possibility of false-negative results.  

What to do if you or your child test positive

This guidance remains relatively the same. If you test positive, take the following steps:

  • Isolate yourself or your child for at least five days
  • As long as any fever is gone and symptoms are improving, isolation can end after day five, though continue to wear a high-quality mask through day 10. 

How can I best protect my child from severe illness?

Both the CDC and The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) continue to recommend that all children over the age of 6 months get vaccinated and stay up to date on boosters. Everyone over the age of 2 should wear a mask in indoor public places (including schools) during times of high community transmission levels. If your child is at high risk for severe disease, they should wear a mask at times of medium community transmission levels.