DepEd Update: Health and Safety Protocols in Light of the COVID-19 Pandemic
The Department of Education (DepEd) issued DepEd Order no.039, s 2022 – Health and Safety Protocols in Light of the COVID-19 Pandemic. DepEd issued these health and safety protocols to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of learners and personnel in the implementation of in-person classes amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Various issuances are available to schools, however, some of the provisions of the said issuances are no longer applicable or have been updated based on latest evidence or guidance from health authorities or the national government. With this, it is deemed necessary to provide the updated protocols and standards that should be in place as schools implement face-to-face classes. This DepEd update includes:
- a. an updated guidance for teaching and nonteaching personnel and learners regarding COVID-19 vaccination and testing in the Department;
- b. minimum public health standards (MPHS), and other related health protocols relative to their reporting for work or school beginning School Year (SY) 2022-2023;
- c. efforts to promote COVID-19 vaccination; and
- d. handling attendance records of personnel affected by matters related to COVID-19.
This DepEd Order shall apply to all public elementary and secondary schools, including community learning centers (CLCs) nationwide, and their offices. SUCs/LUCs offering basic education and private schools are highly encouraged to adopt this DO.
HEALTH AND SAFETY PROTOCOLS IN LIGHT OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
GUIDANCE ON COVID-19 VACCINATION AND TESTING
DepEd strictly implements a “no-discrimination” policy in terms of managing its personnel and learners, regardless of their vaccination status.
- All teaching and non-teaching personnel and learners, regardless of vaccination status, shall be allowed to attend in-person classes.
- Unvaccinated teaching and non-teaching personnel and learners shall not be required to undergo regular COVID-19 testing.
- DepEd offices and schools shall not be held liable if a teaching and non- teaching personnel or learners should turn COVID-19-positive.
- DepEd continues to recognize vaccination as among the most effective strategies for the prevention of COVID-19 deaths.
- Schools shall coordinate with health authorities from the local government to encourage and educate stakeholders on the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination especially among the families of unvaccinated teaching and non-teaching personnel and learners and implement mobile vaccinations for those who sign a written consent to be vaccinated.
School Health and Nutrition (SHN) personnel shall continue to encourage teachers and the non-teaching personnel to have at least three (3) doses of their COVID-19 vaccination (two  primary doses plus at least one  booster dose), with inclusion of parents, guardians, and learners as applicable. SHN personnel shall document specific issues on hesitancy that unvaccinated personnel and learners may have.
Schools are encouraged to request the support of Parents and Teachers Associations (PTAs) as partners in education and health preservation; that they be involved in conducting information sessions and briefings on COVID-19 vaccination, or emphasizing its benefits to increase the wall of immunity or learners and the community.
Schools are enjoined to take active participation in the DOH PinasLakas Campaign, a demand generation campaign for COVID-19 vaccination, which adopts a settings-based approach. Campaign background and materials may be accessed at https://bit.lv/PinasLakasSBCC and http: / /bit.lv/PinasLakasAssets respectively.
Vaccine cards/records shall not be used as a mandatory requirement for educational, employment, and other similar government transaction purposes.
Data on the vaccination of learners shall continue to be part of the Learners’ Information System (LIS). SHN personnel shall be given access to such data to ensure alignment of initiatives to promote vaccination and address hesitancy.
MINIMUM PUBLIC HEALTH STANDARDS (MPHS) AND OTHER RELATED HEALTH PROTOCOLS
While all personnel and learners will now freely interact with each other in shared spaces in the school setting regardless of their vaccination status, all concerned shall ensure observance of the MPHS, as provided for in DO 34, s. 2022, and as reiterated and further expounded in this section.
- Schools shall ensure availability of handwashing facilities with soap and conduct of group handwashing activities while observing MPHS. A group handwashing facility should have at least ten (10) water outlets in elementary level, and four (4) water outlets in the secondary level.
- Schools shall follow the latest guidelines on cleaning and disinfection as issued by the DOH and/or the WHO, and ensure that only disinfectants that are approved by the Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA) shall be used.
The Philippine COVID-19 Living Recommendations recommends against the use of footbaths, and ionizing air purifier, misting tents or disinfection chambers for preventing and controlling COVID-19 transmission, while it recommends against the use of UV lamps or other UV devices in any place outside of a controlled clinic or hospital setting to prevent and control COVID-19 transmission.
WEARING OF FACE MASKS
Wearing of face masks shall be mandatory for all personnel, learners, and visitors inside classrooms, laboratories and other school rooms, but shall be voluntary in open spaces, or non-crowded outdoor areas with good ventilation, as well as in playing sports and other physical activities. Open spaces and outdoor areas shall mean areas or spaces with or without roofing.
The school shall ensure availability of face masks especially for learners who may come to school not wearing one. The school may seek the assistance of the local government as needed to ensure ample and regular supply of face masks. It is reiterated that health and sanitation expenses are among those “clarified as allowed to be charged against the Use of the Special Education Funds (SEF),”of Budget and Management (DBM)
A face shield may be used in lieu of a face mask for specific situations where removal of face mask is warranted, such as activities requiring the entire face of an individual to be visible. During these specific activities, safe distance, adequate ventilation, and proper hygiene shall be strictly ensured at all times.
All schools and offices shall ensure adequate ventilation in enclosed and shared spaces.
Adequate ventilation may be achieved through natural ventilation such as opening of windows and doors, while ensuring that nearby spaces of open windows are free from toxic gases and pollutants.
Other options to increase ventilation in enclosed spaces include using exhaust fans and placing fans near windows.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), using a fan in an enclosed space can increase the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. This is why it is important to open windows and doors whenever using a fan to replace indoor air without outdoor air.
Ventilation fans (i.e., floor, table top, pedestal fans) should be placed where air flow from these fans shall not be from person to person.
The fan can be placed in front of an open window to increase air flow and push indoor air outside.
Proper ventilation in communal restrooms must not be overlooked. If installed, exhaust fans in these areas must be operational and at full capacity whenever the space is occupied. All users must remember to close the lids of toilet bowls before flushing. The acts of flushing contribute to dispersion of contaminants inside the restrooms.
All personnel, learners, and visitors shall observe physical distancing whenever possible.
Canteens can operate at full operational capacity. Eating should be done with distancing whenever possible.
SCHOOL HEALTH PROGRAMS AND SERVICE*, INCLUDING VACCINATION
Schools shall ensure continuous implementation of school-based routine vaccination and other medical, dental and nursing services, and campaigns on healthy schools like smoke-free and vape-free environments, anti-bullying practices, nutrition, oral health, reproductive health, substance use prevention, mental health, and water, sanitation and hygiene), in line with existing initiatives such as Oplan sa Kalusugan DepEd, and the Healthy Learning Institutions (HLI) Framework.
Schools shall follow the latest protocols on identifying close contacts, isolation, quarantine, and treatment as implemented by local epidemiology and surveillance units (LESUs). As such, unless everyone in the office or the school has been advised by the LESU to undergo quarantine or isolation, there shall be no need for school or office closure.
COVID-19 RESPONSE AND MANAGEMENT
All personnel and learners shall be regularly reminded to strictly monitor themselves for possible symptoms of COV1D-19 before reporting to work or school.
Those with flu-like symptoms, regardless of vaccination status, will not be allowed to report onsite but will be advised to stay at home, switch to distance learning (for learners), or avail of their sick leave credits (for personnel), as may be applicable. Similarly, visitors who show COVID-19 symptoms shall be advised to transact with the office or the school virtually or come back another time when they are no longer symptomatic.
Schools shall strengthen community monitoring measures and referral systems with LGUs and health centers and encourage participation and cooperation of parents and communities for safe transportation and home care isolation of learners when sick.
Offices and schools are no longer required to have a dedicated isolation room for symptomatic learners of personnel, but shall ensure that personnel and learners who need to be transported home or to local health facilities due to COVID-19 symptoms stay or wait in a safe open space or holding area in the office or the school. The space/area shall be disinfected before and after use through wiping (not spraying or misting) of surfaces with FDA-approved disinfectants.
School-specific surveillance plans shall be established.
a. Schools shall identify and report case clusters and other unusual health events to the LESUs.
b. Schools shall coordinate closely with LESUs for case and cluster investigation and confirmatory testing and management as needed.
c. Schools shall monitor absences to determine if higher than usually recorded and investigate if the cause of absences is attributed to a similar event.
HANDLING ATTENDANCE RECORDS OF PERSONNEL AFFECTED BY MATTERS RELATED TO COVID-19
Attendance records of personnel who will not be able to report to work onsite due to reasons related to COVID-19 (e.g., failing to report to work on-site for not complying with the regular COVID-19 test requirement; undergoing required isolation, or treatment; availing of vaccination; getting treated for Adverse Events Following Immunization [AEFI]) shall be handled in accordance to latest issuances.
All personnel shall follow the latest isolation protocols, including the prescribed period, as set by the latest national guidelines, and as implemented by their respective local epidemiology and surveillance units (LESUs).
Excused absence shall be applied personnel who are required to undergo isolation, pursuant to CSC MC No. 02, s. 2022. Personnel who are considered to be under “excused are not required to report for work, but are entitled to payment of absence” salary. Their absence shall not be deducted to their accrued leave/service credits.
Work-from-Home arrangement shall apply to personnel who are required to undergo isolation due to exposure but are asymptomatic and/or are able to perform their work assignments at home. Excused absence shall apply to personnel who are in isolation due to exposure to COVID-19 but are not able to perform their work assignments at home, provided that they submit a certification issued by their respective Heads of Offices, attached to their Leave forms.
CLAIMING COVID-19 ISOLATION AND LEAVE BENEFITS
For the purpose of claiming COVID-19 isolation and leave benefits, a medical certification issued by a certified attending physician/Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams (BHERT)/office or school medical physician may suffice provided it should include the following minimum information: name of patient, severity of symptoms, diagnosis as probable or confirmed COVID-19, and date of end of isolation period. Additional documents required as provided in CSC MC No. 02, s. 2022 such as but not limited to:
a. Copy of COVID-19 test result
b. Copy of Barangay/Office Clinic Contact Tracing Form
c. Approved Travel Authority/Locator Slip
d. Certificate of Appearance
e. Laboratory results and other medical supporting documents
Diagnostic reports and test results shall come from accredited laboratory or testing centers and shall be subject to validation for authenticity as may be needed. Absences without the required medical certification shall be deducted to employees’ accrued leave credits/service credits or salary, if applicable.
For absences from work during the day of COVID-19 vaccination (first and second dose, including booster shots) and absences due to the adverse effects following immunization shall be considered as “excused subject to the requirements absence,” and provisions of CSC MC No. 16, s. 2021.
Furthermore, following the scope and coverage of DO No. 11,s. 2020, and to promote the welfare and well-being of all DepEd personnel, the application of COVID-19 leave benefits shall be extended to all COS and JOs in all DepEd offices, schools, and CLCs. In lieu of the required leave form (CSC Form No. 06 s. 2020), COS and JOs shall attach the required documentary requirements/medical card to certification/vaccination their duly signed Daily Time Records (DTRs), as supporting documents for the processing of their salaries.
The provisions of OSEC Memorandum dated June 28, 2022 titled Concerns vaccination and testing of personnel of the Department of Education; and on COVID-19 Office Order No. OO-OSEC-2022-003 titled Interim Guidelines on the Expansion of Limited Face-to-Face Classes are repealed. All other DepEd Orders, Memoranda, and other related issuances, rules, regulations, and provisions which are inconsistent with these guidelines are repealed, rescinded, or modified accordingly.