My Child Tested Positive for COVID-19: What Do I Do Now?

Published on in Health Tip of the Week

If your child has tested positive for COVID-19, you probably have many questions. With so much information available and guidelines changing frequently as scientists and doctors continue to study the virus (and its variants), it can be hard to know what to do. The following guidance from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) can help you navigate your child’s illness and avoid spreading the virus to others.

Watch for the top 5 things to know if your child tests positive, and read on for more advice:

Don’t panic!

Though it’s normal to worry anytime your child is sick, there’s no need to panic if they’ve tested positive for COVID-19. There’s increasing evidence that COVID-19 is becoming a milder infection in most otherwise healthy children, similar to a cold or mild flu, and the majority can recover at home. As you would with any respiratory virus, keep your child comfortable with plenty of fluids and over-the-counter pain medication, and monitor their symptoms.

If your child isn’t eating, drinking, breathing or acting normally, or has a high-risk condition or immunosuppression, please contact your care team. In the unlikely event that your child shows any emergency warning signs, such as trouble breathing, seek medical care immediately.

Isolate for 5 days

If your child tests positive for COVID-19, they’ll need to isolate for five full days. No matter what kind of test you used, even an at-home test, you don’t need another test to confirm that your child is positive for COVID-19. If your child has symptoms, start counting days one day after symptoms begin. If your child isn’t experiencing symptoms, start counting days one day after you were tested (not the day you received the positive test result.) This online tool can help you determine how many days to stay in isolation.

If your child has a problem with their immune system, however, please contact your health care team. Your child may need to isolate for a longer period of time and may be eligible for certain treatments for COVID-19.

What does “isolate” mean?

To “isolate” means your child shouldn’t leave your home at all — no work, school, daycare or errands — except to receive essential medical care.

If at all possible, you should also try to limit exposure to other people living in your home. Teenagers should stay in a separate room from other household members and use a separate bathroom if possible. At a minimum, everyone should clean their hands frequently, stay more than 6 feet apart as much as possible, and not share personal items, such as pillows, water bottles or eating utensils.

When caring for younger children who cannot be left alone, make sure to wear a well-fitting mask and regularly sanitize surfaces and wash your hands. If you are breastfeeding, continue to do so — just make sure to wear a mask when interacting with your baby.

If my child tested positive, but I didn’t, can I leave the house?

If your child has tested positive for COVID-19, you are considered “exposed.” The guidelines for people who have been exposed to COVID-19 are different, depending on whether or not (and when) you’ve been vaccinated:

  • If you are up-to-date on COVID-19 vaccines (have received a booster shot or completed a Pfizer or Moderna primary vaccine series within the last six months, or received a single dose of J&J vaccine within the last two months), you do not need to quarantine. We recommend that you wear a well-fitted mask around others for 10 days. If you can, test five days after the end of the exposure (that is, the end of your child’s ten days) or if symptoms develop.
  • If you are not up-to-date on COVID-19 vaccines, you should self-quarantine (stay at home) for five days. After a five-day period of self-quarantine, we recommend that you wear a well-fitted mask around others for an additional five days. If you can, test five days after exposure or if symptoms develop. 

Learn more from the CDC about isolation and quarantine.

After isolation, wear a mask for 5 days

If, after five full days of isolation, your child’s symptoms are improving and they’ve been fever-free for 24 hours, they may end isolation and return to school. However, they must wear a well-fitted mask at all times for an additional five days (10 days total).

If your child is under 2 years, or can’t or won’t wear a mask, they must continue to isolate for an additional five days (10 days total).

Additional testing to return to school isn’t necessary. See recent guidance for K-12 educational settings from CHOP and CHOP’s PolicyLab.

What do I do if my school district has different requirements to return to school?

Because communities may have different rates of COVID-19 infection, guidelines from your local health department or school district may be different from these recommendations. If that is the case, we recommend you follow local health guidance before returning to school.

Get vaccinated

The best way to keep your children and family safe from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated when you’re no longer sick. While getting sick with COVID-19 offers some protection from future illness, all currently available vaccines give most people a high level of protection against the virus. With increasing rates of COVID-19 infection in children, vaccines and boosters provide a critical opportunity to protect your family from COVID-19 and combat the spread of the virus. Learn about CHOP’s COVID-19 Vaccine Program here.

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