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Portrait of five young children with arms on each other's shoulders standing in school hallway

September means back to school – and the start of the fall sicknesses. It’s also National Preparedness Month, a yearly reminder to take action before, during, and after an emergency. Read on for why you and your loved ones should stay home when sick, whether it’s COVID-19 or another illness, as well as how to help your community be ready for an infectious disease outbreak, chemical or radiological release, or natural disaster. 

Stay Home When You're Sick

With kids back in school and many people back in offices, many of us are remembering what it’s like to be sick. Whether it’s COVID-19 or another infectious illness like the flu, a cold, or another virus, people who have symptoms such as cough, fever, sore throat, vomiting, or diarrhea, should stay home.

For everyone

An important way to reduce the spread of illness is to keep sick people away from those who are not sick. Staying home until at least 24 hours after symptoms start can lower the risk of spreading infectious diseases to other people. 

Testing is recommended for people with symptoms of COVID-19 as soon as possible after symptoms begin. For more information on staying home when sick with COVID-19, see Isolation and Precautions for People with COVID-19.

And of course, don’t forget to stay up to date on COVID-19 vaccines and the flu vaccine to reduce your risk of serious illness. Speak with your health care provider to see if you’re eligible for other vaccines to prevent infectious illnesses as well.

For schools and early care and education programs

Schools and early care and education (ECE) programs should allow flexible and supportive paid sick leave policies and practices, following laws and regulations. Schools should also provide excused absences for students who are sick, avoid policies that incentivize coming to school while sick, and support children who are learning at home if they are sick. Schools and ECE programs should make sure that employees and families are aware of and understand these policies. They also should avoid language that makes it hard for employees and kids to stay home when sick.

For employers

Employees may stay home because they are sick, need to care for sick household members, or because schools have been dismissed and they need to care for their children. Businesses should review and communicate their sick leave policies and practices to employees every year before flu season begins in the fall.

  • Advise all employees to stay home if they are sick.
  • Prepare and advise employees on policies concerning caring for sick household members or children. Flexible leave policies and alternate work schedules can help prevent the spread of illnesses at your workplace, allow employees to continue to work or function while limiting contact with others, help maintain continuity of operations, and help people manage their health and their family’s needs.
  • Prepare for employees to stay home from work and plan ways for essential business functions to continue. Cross-train staff to perform essential functions so that the business can continue operating.

National Preparedness Month: Meet People Where They Are

group of people packing can goods, bottled water and blankets for emergency.

September is National Preparedness Month! Every year, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) along with 3,000 global, national, regional, and local governments, and private and public health institutions, supports emergency preparedness efforts and encourages Americans to take action before, during, and after an emergency. Every community in the United States should prepare to respond to emergencies, including infectious disease outbreaks, chemical or radiological releases, and natural disasters.

CDC Center for Preparedness and Response publishes an annual social media toolkit in observance of National Preparedness Month and support of state and local public health departments. The theme of this year’s toolkit is “Meet People Where They Are.”

The toolkit considers the impacts of social determinants of health (SDOH) on personal health preparedness and emergency response. SDOH are non-medical factors that influence health outcomes. They are the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age, and the wider set of forces and systems shaping the conditions of daily life.

SDOH contribute to health disparities and inequities in the burden of disease, injury, impacts of emergencies, and opportunities to prepare and respond to emergencies. Disparities such as these can make it difficult or impossible for people to prepare for and respond to emergencies to their full potential.

The “Meet People Where They Are” toolkit includes ready-to-use social media messages, graphics, and related resources. All are free to use.

Visit CDC’s Prepare Your Health website for links to this and past toolkit releases. We encourage your organization to join us in September to #PrepYourHealth and be ready for emergencies.

Additional Resources

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