School-aged boy looking sad As some schools begin to open, parents will need to adjust to another new reality: the rules around keeping children home when they have symptoms of COVID-19.

Procedures and policies will vary from school to school. However, most schools will screen students for symptoms of COVID-19. Schools will also be more likely to proactively pull students out of class and send them home than they were before the pandemic.

Your child’s school may be following CDC guidelines on when to quarantine. If so, expect your child to be sent home if:

They have one of these symptoms: cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, or loss of taste or smell.

OR

They have two of these symptoms: fever, chills, shivering, muscle aches, headache, sore throat, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, and congestion or runny nose.

Stay calm and parent on

So you get the dreaded call from the school nurse. And now your child is home.

Take a deep breath. Instead of panicking because your child might have COVID-19, stay calm and use your good judgement as you consider what to do.

Just as you would have before the pandemic, evaluate how your child is feeling. How sick is your child? What can you do to help them feel better?

Take care of your child just as you would have before the pandemic. Help them to be as comfortable as possible by encouraging them to rest and drink plenty of fluids.

It’s also a good idea to take some basic precautions, just as you would any other time your child is sick. Practice physical distancing (at least 6 feet apart) with siblings and other household members. Clean bathroom surfaces after your sick child uses the bathroom. If you have more than one bathroom, the sick child should use a different bathroom than the rest of the family. 

Now what?

After you make your child comfortable, your next step is: Call your child’s doctor.

It’s understandable if one of your primary questions is: When will my child be able to go back to school? Many families are juggling work, childcare and other responsibilities and stressors.

Here’s what will happen now:

  • Your doctor may recommend a telehealth visit or an in-person visit. If a different diagnosis is made, showing your child doesn’t have COVID-19, your child may return to school after they recover from their sickness.
  • Your child may qualify for a COVID-19 test. Your doctor will work with local and state health departments to determine if testing is needed. Not everyone with symptoms needs to be tested. Your child may be referred for COVID-19 testing at CHOP or another Philadelphia-area testing site.
  • If the test is negative, your child may return to school, as long as fever (if your child had one) has been gone at least 24 hours and respiratory symptoms like cough are improved.
  • If the test is positive, let the school know right away. Your child must stay home for at least 10 days. Fever must be gone for 24 hours and respiratory symptoms must be improved before they can return to school. Your doctor may also provide additional guidance around steps you can take at home to reduce the risk of infection spreading to other family members, such as wearing masks in the house.
  • Your doctor may ask you to quarantine your child for at least 10 days, without a COVID-19 test. Fever must be gone for 24 hours and respiratory symptoms must be improved before they can return to school.

Make sure to ask school officials if documentation is required to return to school.

If your child tested positive for COVID-19, you don’t have to take them to be re-tested and get a negative test to return to school. Waiting 10 days is enough. After that amount of time, your child is much less contagious and very unlikely to spread the disease.

Thank you!

By making a good decision about when to send your child back, you protect teachers, cafeteria workers, principals and all the staff at your child’s school – not to mention your child’s classmates and their families.

Doctors and other experts at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia – including our nationally recognized PolicyLab – have compiled a report to help schools make decisions around re-openings. If you’re interested in more detail, you can read it here.

Allison Ballantine, MD, MEd, is acting Chief Medical Officer of CHOP’s new hospital in King of Prussia (opening in 2021).

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