The dangers of community spread of COVID-19 cannot be understated. Scientists continue to learn more every day about this virus, but what seems clear at this time is the likelihood of spread increases in accordance with the amount of exposure to the virus.

In response, the San Mateo County Office of Education and Health Department created the Four Pillars – health and hygiene protocols, face coverings, physical distancing, and limiting gatherings – to reduce the likelihood of spread within the school setting. These pillars reflect guidance from the California Department of Public Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What are the Four Pillars?

The Four Pillars guiding in-person learning in San Mateo County are: health and hygiene, face coverings, physical distancing, and limiting gatherings.

Pillar One: Health and Hygiene Protocols

Hygiene protocols are essential to avoiding the spread of disease. They include daily hygiene routines such as handwashing, cough/sneeze etiquette, symptom screening, cleaning, ventilation, and limited sharing of materials.

Pillar Two: Face Coverings

Properly wearing a face covering significantly reduces the risk of transmitting coronavirus when in public. The California Department of Public Health requires every age two and older to wear a face covering while in public.

Pillar Three: Physical Distancing

Physical distancing is one of the most effective tools to avoid exposure to the COVID-19 virus and slow its spread. Proper physical distancing requires people to stay at least six feet (or two arms’ length) away from other people and staying out of crowded places. Schools must create stable groups of students and staff to reduce mixing and interactions on campus.

Pillar Four: Limiting Gatherings

In addition to maintaining distance, schools must also limit non-essential in-person gatherings to reduce the spread of COVID-19 from person to person. This applies to staff meetings, extracurricular activities, events, and close-contact sports. Note that the instruction of students at school is not considered a gathering.

Backed by Science

The behaviors and actions included in the Four Pillars are grounded in science and represent best practices in preventing the spread of communicable disease. As research has shown, effective implementation of the Four Pillars can significantly reduce community spread within a school so that in-person learning can be sustained with integrity.

The Four Pillars also provide an opportunity to create new school norms that can improve health and safety for all members of the school community and, therefore, can serve to improve academic, social, and emotional outcomes for all students.

Learn more in the Pandemic Recovery Framework

The San Mateo County Pandemic Recovery Framework for Schools provides school leaders with the health, education, and legal guidance needed to develop local plans for the safe reopening of school campuses.

The Framework provides school leaders with a continuum of learning options that support the flexible delivery of education amid further possible restrictions to in-person learning throughout the 2020-21 school year.

It is aligned with State and County orders as well as guidance provided by the California Department of Public Health and the California Department of Education. This Framework was developed as a collaboration of the San Mateo County Office of Education, San Mateo County district superintendents and administrators, San Mateo County Health, and San Mateo County Counsel. Additional technical review was provided by San Mateo County’s Coalition for Safe Schools and Communities Steering Committee.

Student-Made Videos

screen captures from student-made Four Pillars videos

Local students have been inspired to make their own videos demonstrating and promoting the Four Pillars. Has your school made a Four Pillars video? Let us know!

Contact Information:


Phone: (650) 802-5515